In the latest in a groundswell of climate liability lawsuits, the coastal city of Hoboken, New Jersey is suing six fossil giants as well as the American Petroleum Institute (API) trade group, accusing them of a deliberate, decades-long campaign of deception and demanding compensation for current and future climate impacts.
“The lawsuit includes legal claims of public and private nuisance, trespass, negligence, and violation of New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act,” reports DeSmog Blog. Colossal fossils BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Shell, and Phillips 66 are named in the suit, alongside API.
The aim of the plaintiffs is to force the entities to pay for at least some of the climate damage that will otherwise be “saddled onto taxpayers”. By 2040, the estimated cost for sea walls will reach US$27.9 million in Hoboken alone, and a whopping $505 million for the larger Hudson County, DeSmog Blog says, citing a 2019 study by the Center for Climate Integrity.
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“We want to be compensated for the costs of climate damages both past, present, and future,” Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla told media, adding that the city has already spent “hundreds of millions of dollars” on efforts to shore up its resilience in the face of ever-worsening floods and sea level rise. Noting that poor and minority communities are worst and longest affected by fossil pollution and climate impacts, Bhalla declared the climate lawsuit to be no less a “racial justice issue.”
Although Hoboken’s legal costs will be paid by the law firm that is representing its case, New York City’s Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel LLP, a win against Big Oil will not be quickly or easily achieved. “Similar climate cases filed by states and municipalities have been embroiled in jurisdictional battles, with fossil fuel companies determined to move the cases to federal courts, where they see an easier path to dismissal,” DeSmog writes. All but one have yet to reach trial, and the one that did—a securities fraud case filed by the state of New York against Exxon—was dismissed.
Bhalla is undaunted, however, saying during his news conference that Hoboken is taking legal action for the sake of the city’s youth.
The fossil side, too, is expressing confidence. Dismissing the Hoboken claim as “baseless and without merit,” a spokesperson for ExxonMobil told DeSmog Blog the company “looks forward to defending [itself] in court.”