climate change

Oakland, SF Ask Appeals Court to Reinstate Lawsuit Against Oil Companies

File photo of a gavel

A lawyer for the cities of Oakland and San Francisco asked a federal appeals court Wednesday to reinstate their climate-change lawsuits against five oil companies.

The two cities claim San Ramon-based Chevron Corp. and four other companies created a public nuisance under California law by promoting oil and natural gas fuels while allegedly knowing that they lead to global warming and sea level rise.

The cities' lawsuits, originally filed in Alameda County and San Francisco superior courts, ask for compensation to pay for infrastructure such as seawalls to protect from rising seas and severe storms.

The cities are appealing a 2018 decision by U.S. District Judge William Alsup of San Francisco to dismiss the cases as well as his earlier decision to allow the oil companies to move the lawsuits to federal court.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals took the cases under submission after hearing arguments at the court's Pasadena courthouse, and will rule at a later date. The arguments were live-streamed on the court's website.

Attorney Michael Rubin told the panel the cities allege the companies "engaged in large-scale, sophisticated advertising and communication campaigns to promote the use of their products at massive levels" while knowing global warming "threatened severe and even catastrophic harm to coastal cities like San Francisco and Oakland."

He said the cities are seeking only "equitable abatement of localized harm" under the terms of the state law.

Theodore Boutrous, a lawyer for Chevron, argued that federal court was the right place for the cases.

"Because of the interstate and international nature of the claims, state law can't apply," he contended.

U.S. Justice Department attorney Jonathan Brightbill argued that it is up to Congress and the federal executive branch, not the judiciary, to "set national policy relating to the complex questions related to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change."

Also on Wednesday, the same panel heard arguments on several similar lawsuits filed in local superior courts against a larger number of oil companies by San Mateo, Marin and Santa Cruz counties and the cities of Richmond, Santa Cruz and Imperial Beach.

In those cases, a different federal judge, U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria of San Francisco, declined to allow the lawsuits to be moved to federal court. The oil companies are appealing that decision.

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