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Judge to hear oil companies’ bid for dismissal of climate change lawsuits filed by SF, Oakland

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San Francisco and Oakland have filed a lawsuit against five oil companies arguing the companies have created a “public nuisance” by contributing to climate change. (Examiner file photo)

Five oil companies are due to ask a federal judge on Thursday to dismiss a pair of climate change lawsuits filed by the cities of Oakland and San Francisco.

U.S. District Judge William Alsup will hear arguments on the companies’ motions for dismissal in his San Francisco courtroom at 8 a.m. Thursday.

The lawsuits filed last year claim the corporations created a
public nuisance by producing “massive quantities” of oil and natural gas and promoting their use while knowing they lead to global warming and rising sea levels.

The two cities ask for the creation of abatement funds, possibly
in the billions of dollars, to pay for seawalls and other infrastructure to protect against rising seas.

“This threat to human safety and to public and private property is becoming more dire every day as global warming reaches ever more dangerous levels and sea level rise accelerates,” Oakland’s lawsuit alleges.

The five defendants are the world’s largest investor-owned oil
companies: Chevron Corp., Exxon Mobil Corp., ConocoPhillips, BP PLC, and Royal Dutch Shell PLC.

They have marshaled an array of arguments claiming the lawsuits
should be thrown out because they violate or conflict with common law principles, federal laws and the U.S. Constitution.

“The production of fossil fuels is specifically authorized and
encouraged by numerous federal, state and local laws,” the companies argued in a brief filed last month.

They also contend they can’t be held liable because “they did not control the fossil fuels at the time the alleged nuisance was created — i.e., when the fuel was combusted.”

Instead, there were “billions of intervening third parties,”
including the cities themselves, that burned the fuels, the companies claim.

The U.S. Justice Department has weighed in on the side of the oil companies in support of dismissing the lawsuits. It said in a friend-of-the court brief that the United States has “strong economic and national security interests in promoting the development of fossil fuels, among other energy resources.”

California, joined by New Jersey and Washington, filed a
friend-of-the-court brief on the side of the cities, urging Alsup to deny the motions for dismissal.

Oakland and San Francisco originally filed their lawsuits on
behalf of the people of California in September in Alameda County and San Francisco superior courts, but the cases were moved to federal court at the companies’ request.

In March, Alsup held an unusual public tutorial session on the
science of climate change in connection with the lawsuits.

A lawyer for Chevron Corp. said during the session that the San
Ramon-based company accepts that climate change is real and is caused primarily by human activity, but said it is “a global issue that requires global debate and engagement.”

Julie Cheever, Bay City News

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