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California Sues Fossil Fuel Corporations, Beginning Historic Legal Fight

On September 15, California Attorney General Rob Bonta filed a lawsuit targeting some of the biggest oil and gas companies, claiming that they have deceived the public since the 1960s by downplaying the risks and damages fossil fuels have on the environment. It also claims that the American Petroleum Institute was forewarned about the damages oil and gas companies were causing to the environment in 1968 by the Stanford Research Institute, but did nothing.

Wildfire burning around a bridge, lighting up the nearby hill
Wildfires like this one in Oroville, California, have sparked California's legal action. (Noah Berger/AP Photo via Politico)

The lawsuit targeted five major corporations: Exxon Mobil, Shell, BP, ConocoPhillips, and Chevron. It cited evidence from internal company memorandums which stated that the companies understood the risks and damage their fossil fuel extraction could have upon the environment but continued regardless.


California stated that the inaction and willful deception of these companies have aggravated climate change disasters such as wildfires, sweltering heat, and floods. Furthermore, it accused the companies of continuing to promote the use of fossil fuels, thereby going against their pledges to move towards using renewable energy sources. In the end, the state hopes to have the five companies pay damages for climate change disasters.


The five companies targeted in the lawsuit, as well as the American Petroleum Institute, have criticized the legal action, stating that gas and oil company’s policies should be taken to Congress, not dealt with in a legal battle.


While several other states and cities, including Rhode Island, Baltimore, and Honolulu have filed similar lawsuits, California differs in the fact that the state itself is a major oil and gas producer. Additionally, since California has faced devastating climate-change disasters, experiencing wildfires, sweltering heat, and floods, the companies will have to pay substantial money in damages should they lose. This lawsuit, no matter the outcome, will be critical in deciding whether or not oil companies should be targeted and fined for their actions that are exacerbating climate change.


If California wins the lawsuit, it will be a huge victory for climate change organizations and activists, generating new precedent for legal action against fossil fuel companies.


How can you help?

Further Reading: An analysis of California's case by The New York Times


Take Action

  1. Writing for Kids Fight Climate Change: If you are interested in making climate change news more accessible, you should consider joining us! Check out this link: Join the Team | Kids Fight Climate Change: Youth Climate Education

  2. Volunteering at advocacy groups. VolunteerMatch is a great resource to find volunteer opportunities, virtual and in-person. Check out this link: VolunteerMatch

  3. If neither of those options applies to you, there are still ways to raise awareness! Simply by sharing articles such as this one, you are doing your part to spread important climate information. That is activism.


Sources

Gelles, David. 2023. “California Sues Giant Oil Companies, Citing Decades of Deception.” The New York Times, September 16. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/09/15/business/california-oil-lawsuit-newsom.html?smid=nytcore-ios-share&referringSource=articleShare. Blood, Michael R. 2023. “California Lawsuit Says Oil Giants Deceived Public on Climate, Seeks Funds for Storm Damage.” AP News. September 17, 2023. https://apnews.com/article/climate-oil-gas-california-lawsuit-newsom-212d6d9873352f28094173a1974e3d90. Rapier, Robert. 2023. “California’s Misguided Lawsuit against Oil Firms.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine. September 20. https://www.forbes.com/sites/rrapier/2023/09/17/californias-misguided-lawsuit-against-oil-firms/?sh=186425ce4637. Picciotto, Rebecca. 2023. “California Suit against Chevron, Exxon, Shell, Others, Alleges Public Deception on Climate Change.” CNBC. September 18. https://www.cnbc.com/2023/09/18/california-sues-chevron-exxon-oil-giants-on-climate-change-deception.html. Kim, Juliana, and Michael Copley. 2023. “California’s Lawsuit Says Oil Giants Downplayed Climate Change. Here’s What to Know.” NPR. September 17. https://www.npr.org/2023/09/16/1199974919/california-oil-lawsuit-climate-change. Alvarado, Caroll. 2023. “California Sues 5 Major Oil Companies, Accuses Them of Deceiving Public over the Risks of Fossil Fuel Use.” CNN. September 16. https://www.cnn.com/2023/09/16/us/california-lawsuit-oil-companies/index.html. Marinucci, Carla. 2020. “The West Is on Fire. It Took Trump 3 Weeks to Mention It.” POLITICO. September 9. https://www.politico.com/states/california/story/2020/09/11/the-west-is-on-fire-it-took-trump-3-weeks-to-mention-it-1316566.


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