Climate change lawsuits filed by Annapolis and Anne Arundel County may continue in Maryland courts, judge says – Capital Gazette

Did the world’s oil companies know that burning fossil fuels was causing climate change while trying to convince consumers otherwise? Lawyers representing Annapolis, Anne Arundel County and dozens of other states and municipalities think so, and believe companies should be required to pay to mitigate the harms of warming oceans, rising temperatures and climate change. other environmental crises.

Annapolis and Anne Arundel’s joint lawsuit, filed last year, took a big step forward last week when a judge ruled their cases should be tried in state court instead. only in federal court.

The defendants – 25 companies linked to the oil and gas industry as well as the American Petroleum Institute, a powerful trade organization – argued that these cases “raise national issues that should not be brought before a myriad of courts of State”, according to the general API. Advice. But U.S. District Court Judge Stephanie Gallagher disagreed. In her order, issued Sept. 29, Gallagher said she would follow similar precedent and refer the matter to the Maryland judiciary.

“Since 2017, more than twenty state and local governments across the country have brought comparable common law suits against actors in the fossil fuel industry,” the judge wrote. She noted that the Baltimore lawsuit, filed in 2018 by the same California law firm, remains in state court, as do four of five similar cases being considered on appeal.

Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley praised Gallagher’s decision, while API General Counsel Ryan Meyers called the lawsuit and others like it a “meritless” waste of money. taxpayer resources. “We are considering our next steps in light of the court’s decision,” he said in a statement.

In their lawsuit against the oil companies on behalf of Annapolis, attorneys for Sher Edling say the Maryland capital has “the largest recorded increase in average annual nuisance flooding of any city in the nation – nearly ten times.” The complaint goes on to allege that the effects of climate change have resulted in loss of revenue and property damage to local businesses, and in turn, caused the city to spend financial resources on pumps, levees and other infrastructure. to combat sea level rise.

While it’s unclear how some cities, counties and states filing similar lawsuits would use the money if damages were awarded, Annapolis has a concrete need to prevent flooding and is actively seeking funds for a redevelopment project. massif of the City Dock.

“We appreciate the thorough and clear opinion of Judge Gallagher, who joins the majority of federal district and circuit courts across the country in returning our case to state court, where it belongs,” Buckley said in a statement. communicated. “Taxpayers, businesses and residents of Annapolis should not have to pay for the destructive effects of climate change that these defendants knew would impact our community and communities like ours across the country. We look forward to our day in court to hold them accountable.

The wave of state and municipal lawsuits against oil and gas companies began in California in 2017, the same year then-US President Donald Trump said he would withdraw the United States from the deal. Climate Paris, a 2015 agreement signed by nearly 200 countries. The City of Baltimore followed a year later, and the case has been tied to a jurisdictional battle ever since. A narrow technique went all the way to the US Supreme Court last year. The nine justices returned the case to the 4th Circuit Court, where in April the judges ruled that none of the defendants’ eight arguments to try the case in federal court had merit.

The Supreme Court granted the defendants an extension to file another motion. This petition is “pending,” according to Gallagher’s ruling.

“These oil and gas companies are holding out hope that the Supreme Court will come galloping to the rescue,” said William Buzbee, a climate law scholar at Georgetown University. Delay tactics also keep money in shareholders’ pockets, he said. “Part of the game for defendants is to try to delay things.”

Buzbee directs the environmental law and policy program at Georgetown Law. In addition to seeking damages, Buzbee said the states, cities and counties filing these lawsuits hope the discovery process might produce a few bombshells, confessions that might sway the court of public opinion as well as the judicial branch of government. For example, if internal emails or studies reveal that the companies named in the lawsuit – including subsidiaries of BP, Chevron and Shell – knew that the use of fossil fuels was responsible for climate change, they nevertheless continued to promote the idea that trends such as global warming are a natural process, not a man-made crisis.

“A powerful way to fight these kinds of claims is for the people who ran these campaigns to know the opposite was true,” Buzbee said.

He compared the cases that municipalities file against oil companies to lawsuits against tobacco companies. In those lawsuits, the states successfully argued that companies like RJ Reynolds Tobacco and Philip Morris International continued to advertise smoking as a cool way to unwind long after the companies learned cigarettes were harmful. and harmful.

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Following that precedent, the lawsuits against the oil and gas companies are “legitimate claims of state consumer protection law,” Buzbee said.

Although Annapolis and Anne Arundel County filed their lawsuits separately last year, the two worked out an emergency payment plan with Sher Edling and say the company’s attorneys will only be paid if the lawsuits succeed.

Gallagher issued a decision for the Annapolis and Anne Arundel cases. In addition to sending the case to state court, it only gave the defendants a 30-day reprieve before the cases could proceed.

County Executive Steuart Pittman joined Buckley on Friday to welcome the judge’s order. “We will hold these fossil fuel companies accountable for decades of deception about their products and climate change,” he said in a statement. “We expect the defendants to do everything they can to avoid trial, but they cannot run and hide forever.”

Meyers, however, accused Annapolis and the county of creating a “distraction” that could prevent companies from “providing affordable, reliable and cleaner energy.”

While he did not deny the negative effects of climate change, he called attempts to sue who knows what about the phenomenon “baseless”.

“At the end of the day, climate policy is an issue for Congress to debate, not the court system,” Meyers said.

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