In the past two weeks, climate litigation has grown to span the breadth of the United States.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court announced that it would hear arguments regarding the jurisdiction of Baltimore’s climate lawsuit against energy manufacturers. At question is the proper venue for the case to be heard: state or federal court?
The Supreme Court will not determine whether state, municipalities, or localities can sue energy manufacturers for damages. However, the Court’s decision on proper venue could set the stage for a slew of new cases should it be decided that state courts will hear these cases because it will circumvent the AEP v. Connecticut opinion that said corporations cannot be sued for greenhouse gas emissions.
This timing is important for all the outstanding cases, including Maui County’s recent lawsuit against 20 energy companies. Filed this week, Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino stated: “Maui County taxpayers should not be left to bear the staggering costs of climate change impacts. We are seeking relief in state court to hold Big Oil companies accountable for their decades-long disinformation campaign to keep the public in the dark over the climate crisis.”
Again, litigators are hopeful for a favorable Supreme Court ruling so that they can litigate against these companies without precedent hanging over the cases. Should the Supreme Court deliver a win to the municipalities, one can expect the filing of many more climate lawsuits.
Sadly, by attacking these companies for short-term financial victories, municipalities are undermining the very companies leading research and development towards cleaner energy. Additionally, these lawsuits ignore the shared challenges of climate change.
The nature of shared climate challenges and murky culpability of the companies named in domestic climate lawsuits should lead the Supreme Court to determine that these suits are destined for federal court. Any other determination will throw the energy industry at large into a system of frivolous litigation while the nation’s energy languishes.