Senators File Brief in Ninth Circuit Case to Hold Big Oil Responsible for Climate Change
Whitehouse, Feinstein, Blumenthal, Hirono, Markey, Harris point to massive influence campaign to block action in Congress as reason courts must act
Oil majors spend tens of millions to defeat comprehensive climate legislation made necessary by their pollution
Washington, DC – Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), and Kamala Harris (D-CA) have filed a brief with the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit calling out major oil companies for blocking action in Congress on climate change. The senators filed their brief in a case pitting the cities of Oakland and San Francisco against major oil companies in a dispute over costs stemming from climate change. The oil companies have argued that the courts should not get involved and, instead, should leave it to Congress and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to hold them accountable for the massive quantities of pollution dumped into the atmosphere. The senators point to the decades-long influence campaign carried out by the oil industry to sow doubt in the eyes of the public and block any action by Congress or the executive branch to combat carbon pollution.
Oil companies’ “Pollyannaish paean to our separated powers ignores both the collective effect of the millions of dollars these same [companies] have spent to ensure political gridlock and international inaction, and the ‘virtually unflagging obligation of the federal courts to exercise the jurisdiction given them,’” the senators write. “Following their argument would effectively reward their multi-million dollar campaign of deception and obstruction. . . . Given that this Court possesses these ‘broad’ and ‘flexible’ equitable powers, an outcome that accepts [oil companies’] separation of powers argument at face value and thereby rewards their campaign to prevent Congress, the executive agencies, and international fora from addressing climate change, would not be consistent with the public interest or the full justice [the cities] deserve.”
The senators note the record sums the oil company defendants spent against the last major climate change bill considered in Congress in 2009 and 2010:
- BP’s federal lobbying jumped from $10.45 million in 2008 to $16 million in 2009, the most it ever spent on federal lobbying during a single year.
- Chevron’s federal lobbying jumped from $13 million in 2008 to $21 million in 2009, also a record.
- ConocoPhillips’ federal lobbying spending more than doubled from $8.5 million in 2008 to more than $18 million in 2009.
- ExxonMobil, ever at the vanguard of efforts to kill climate legislation, seemed to anticipate the results of the 2008 elections and increased its lobbying to $29 million in 2008 from $17 million in 2007; it then kept up the onslaught in 2009, spending more than $27 million on federal lobbying.
- Shell more than doubled its lobbying spending from $4.5 million in 2008 to $10.2 million in 2009.
In addition to extensive lobbying efforts by the oil industry, the senators highlight the corrosive effect of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, after which no comprehensive climate change legislation has been able to advance in Congress. Indeed, since the decision, Congress has moved in the wrong direction, unwinding important environmental protections that limit the greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change.
Oakland and San Francisco are pursuing a judgment to hold the oil companies responsible for the cost of projects like safeguarding coastlines from flooding due to climate change-driven sea level rise.
Read the senators’ full brief here.