Richard Wiles, president of the Center for Climate Integrity, released a statement saying, “Whether it’s fires, droughts, extreme heat, or sea-level rise, Californians have been living in a climate emergency caused by the fossil fuel industry, and now the state is taking decisive action to make those polluters pay.”
Jamie Henn, founder of Fossil Free Media, said “Climate change isn’t just a tragedy, it’s a crime. Fossil fuel companies knew, they lied, and now it’s time to make them pay.”
Patrick Parenteau, professor of environmental law at Vermont Law and Graduate School, says the lawsuit is a straightforward tort case, alleging that the oil companies lied about the dangers they knew their products were causing.
“This is no different than cigarette companies lying about the dangers of smoking, or paint companies lying about the dangers of lead-based paint, or chemical companies lying about the dangers of PFAS in Teflon-coated frying pans,” said Parenteau in an email to KQED.
In an emailed statement to KQED late Saturday, a spokesperson for Chevron said that climate change is a global problem that required coordinated international policy response rather than “piecemeal litigation.”
“California has long been a leading promoter of oil and gas development. Its local courts have no constructive or constitutionally permissible role in crafting global energy policy,” Chevron said.
In an email statement on Sunday morning, a Shell spokesperson wrote: “The Shell Group’s position on climate change has been a matter of public record for decades. We agree that action is needed now on climate change, and we fully support the need for society to transition to a lower-carbon future. As we supply vital energy the world needs today, we continue to reduce our emissions and help customers reduce theirs.”
The email also added: “We do not believe the courtroom is the right venue to address climate change, but that smart policy from government and action from all sectors is the appropriate way to reach solutions and drive progress.”
Scott Lauermann, media relations manager for the American Petroleum Institute, told KQED in a statement that “This ongoing, coordinated campaign to wage meritless, politicized lawsuits against a foundational American industry and its workers is nothing more than a distraction from important national conversations and an enormous waste of California taxpayer resources. Climate policy is for Congress to debate and decide, not the court system.”
Patrick Parenteau, a professor of law emeritus at Vermont Law & Graduate School told KQED that in order to win the case, California needs to prove that the alleged lies caused real damage.
“They have to connect the lie to the damage, so they have to say if you hadn’t lied we would be in a better position than we are today,” he said. “That’s where the cases are going to be decided.”
Parenteau said that “everybody knows that these cases aren’t going to solve climate change,” but “the fundamental rule of environmental law is [that the] polluter pays. In the end, that’s all these cases are about.”
KQED’s Lakshmi Sarah, Kevin Stark, Azul Dahlstrom Eckman and Attila Pelit contributed to this story.