New York City Just Sued 5 Oil Companies. Could Chicago?

Saturday, 13 Jan, 2018

"It's time for Big Oil to take responsibility for the devastation they have wrought", New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a press conference Wednesday about the decision.

The lawsuit is linked with a $20 billion spending programme on schemes created to boost the resilience of the city of 8.5 million people to flooding and other effects of climate change.

The city is suing five of the industry's biggest companies-ExxonMobil, BP, Shell, Chevron and Conoco Phillips-both for past climate-change damages and for the city's ongoing investments in climate resilience, said DeBlasio, who estimated the total costs at well above $20 billion. "Now it wants the 5 largest oil companies to reimburse it for its losses and pay for the infrastructure improvements needed to protect the city from the impacts of rising sea levels and even more powerful storms in the future".

"We're going after those who have profited - and what a frightful, disgusting way to profit - in a way that's put so many people's lives in danger".

In a blog post, ExxonMobil vice president of public and government affairs Suzanne McCarron said that the company is committed to tackling climate change and has invested US$8bn since 2000 on energy efficiency and emissions reduction.

As a first step in its divestment plan, the trustees for each of NY city's funds have been instructed by the Office of the City Comptroller's Bureau of Asset Management (BAM) to commission an analysis of the proposed divestment and then advise on the anticipated impact on the risk and return characteristics of the portfolio. We believe that we can get real damages here that will help protect the people in New York City going forward, and will also affect the behavior of these companies.

Braden Reddall, senior external affairs advisor at Chevron, called the lawsuit "factually and legally meritless", saying it will do nothing to address climate change.

Similar litigation against the oil industry has already been filed by west coast cities such as San Francisco, Oakland, and Santa Cruz, but it rings a little more tremendous in NYC.

"Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a global issue and requires global participation and action", Exxon Mobil spokesman Scott Silvestri said. Last year, New York City contributed $9.3 billion to its pension funds, jumping from $1.4 billion in 2002, according to the report. And for a city the size of NY, dealing with climate change will not be cheap.

And New York being, well, New York, the Mayor thinks other cities and states will follow its lead.

"In the absence of leadership from the White House, it's encouraging to see city and state leaders like Mayor de Blasio stepping up and taking meaningful action to defund the fossil fuel industry and fight climate change".

Exxon and the American Petroleum Institute did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

"The costs to address climate damages and prepare for future impacts are enormous and growing", said Frumhoff. A virtuous cycle. Oh, and the more we are able to hit the industry in the pocketbook, the less likely costly new drilling and pipeline projects will be to go ahead, no matter how many precious national parks and pristine coastlines the Trump administration attempts to desecrate. The Guardian also reported that two California counties are suing 37 fossil fuel companies for their alleged involvement in emitting greenhouse gases.

The city on Wednesday also announced a goal to divest its $189 billion pension system from fossil fuel reserve owners within five years.

The think tank said in its report that to cope with its underfunded status, NY has increased taxpayers' contributions to its pension funds.