Federal Judge Dismisses S.F. and Oakland Climate Lawsuit Against Big Oil

A general view shows oil pumping jacks and drilling pads at the Kern River Oil Field where the principle operator is the Chevron Corporation in Bakersfield, California on July 28, 2015. The field is the third largest in California, fifth largest in the United States and relies mainly on the steam injection method to extract the crude oil.  (MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup this evening dismissed the climate change case filed by the cities of San Francisco and Oakland against five oil companies.

"The scope of the plaintiffs' theory is breathtaking," Alsup wrote in his ruling. "...anyone who supplied fossil fuels with knowledge of the problem would be liable."

Alsup said further that the science of climate change is not at issue.

"All parties agree that fossil fuels have led to global warming and ocean rise and will continue to do so," he wrote, "and that eventually the navigable waters of the United States will intrude upon Oakland and San Francisco."

However, because the causes and dangers of global warming are worldwide, Alsup wrote, the remedy for the issue properly belongs in the legislative branch, not in the courts.

"The problem deserves a solution on a more vast scale than can be supplied by a district judge or jury in a public nuisance case," Alsup wrote.

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The lawsuit aimed to hold Chevron, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips responsible for the costs of adapting to sea level rise and other climate change burdens.

"Tackling the difficult international policy issues of climate change requires honest and constructive discussion," said R. Hewitt Pate, Chevron vice-president and general counsel, in a statement. "Using lawsuits to vilify the men and woman who provide the energy we all need is neither honest nor constructive."

The city attorneys in Oakland and San Francisco said in separate statements that they're disappointed and are reviewing the ruling and considering their options.

"These defendants must be held accountable for misleading the American people about the catastrophic risks to human beings and all forms of life on this planet caused by fossil fuel-driven global warming and sea level rise," said Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker.

A spokesman for the San Francisco city attorney's office said they're pleased the court recognized that the science of global warming is not in dispute.

"Our litigation forced a public court proceeding on climate science, and now these companies can no longer deny it is real and valid," said press secretary John Coté. "Our belief remains that these companies are liable for the harm they’ve caused."

Lawsuits in Washington and New York make federal claims similar to the arguments in the Oakland and San Francisco case, and their fates are now in doubt. Claims under different legal theories brought by other California cities continue to move through state and federal courts.

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