The City of Boulder, Boulder County, and San Miguel County are filing suit against ExxonMobil and Suncor Energy to recover the climate-related costs they are already beginning to incur due to severe weather, wildfires, water shortages, heat waves, and mosquito-borne diseases.
The filing makes it clear that the communities aren’t looking to stop fossil fuel production or mandate emission regulations. “Instead, they want compensation for a wide range of past and future damages related to climate change, ranging from the cost of fighting wildfires to flood control measures, health care expenses, and the loss of land value,” InsideClimate News reports.
After a recent flurry of legal action on the east and west coasts of the U.S., “the new case takes climate litigation to the middle of the country, where the risks take on new shapes and high costs,” ICN notes. “The Colorado communities are already seeing climate-related damage to property, health, and safety,” with the three jurisdictions contending that “the damage will only multiply as climate change worsens”.
The complaint states that the Canadian tar sands/oil sands company and the U.S. colossal fossil “intentionally engaged in conduct that has caused and contributed to climate change, thus causing flood waters, fire, hail, rain, snow, wind, and invasive species to enter plaintiffs’ property.” It also accuses them of “deceptive trade practices” under the Colorado Consumer Protection Act.
The suit “points to the dwindling snowpack, which is critical for the state’s agriculture, water supply, and US$5-billion ski industry,” InsideClimate states. ICN reports that this month’s snowpack in the southern Colorado mountains was below 50% of normal, and San Miguel County is contending with extreme drought.
The lawsuit, which is backed by the libertarian Niskanen Center, states that the two companies “knowingly and substantially contributed to the climate crisis by producing, promoting, and selling a substantial portion of the fossil fuels that are causing and exacerbating climate change, while concealing and misrepresenting the dangers associated with their intended use.” It contends that taxpayers can’t cover the full cost of addressing those challenges, and shouldn’t have to.
“In an ideal world, we’d put an economy-wide market price on carbon energy to create funding to pay for the necessary costs of adapting to climate change,” wrote Niskanen’s Jerry Taylor and David Bookbinder. “But until that day comes, holding manufacturers responsible for the damages they impose on others is the next best thing. To do otherwise is to green-light violence to property rights and individual liberty in the name of corporate profit, and that is something that conservatives and libertarians should never do.”
In a statement to Bloomberg, Exxon spokesperson Scott Silvestri responded that “reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a global issue and requires global participation and actions. Lawsuits like this—filed by trial attorneys against an industry that provides products we all rely upon to power the economy and enable our domestic life—simply do not do that.”
The suit includes examples of climate impacts the city and counties are already facing, such as an extreme, eight-day rainstorm a few years ago that damaged 150 roads and 30 bridges and cost Boulder County more than $100 million; a trend toward larger, more frequent wildfires in San Miguel County, where wildfire response can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars per day; and the $250,000 per year that Boulder must now budget for a mosquito control program that was unnecessary as recently as 2002.
“Climate change is not just about sea level rise. It affects all of us in the middle of the country as well,” said Boulder County Commissioner Elise Jones. “In fact, Colorado is one of the fastest-warming states in the nation.”
“Our communities and our taxpayers should not shoulder the cost of climate change adaptation alone,” added Boulder Mayor Suzanne Jones. “These oil companies need to pay their fair share.”