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California Takes Legal Action Against Major Oil Corporations for Alleged Misleading Practices Over Many Years

The state of California has filed a lawsuit against several of the world’s largest oil companies, accusing them of causing billions of dollars in damage and deceiving the public about the risks of fossil fuels. The civil case, filed in superior court in San Francisco, aims to establish an abatement fund to cover future climate-related damages in the state. The companies targeted by the lawsuit include Exxon Mobil, Shell, BP, ConocoPhillips, Chevron, and the American Petroleum Institute. This lawsuit is one of the most significant legal challenges faced by the fossil fuel industry, with seven other states and numerous municipalities filing similar lawsuits in recent years.

California is not only the most populous state in the US but also a major producer of oil and gas. The state’s attorney general’s office has a history of initiating landmark cases that other states emulate. Additionally, California is at the forefront of climate change impact, experiencing extreme weather events such as wildfires, floods, rising sea levels, and intense heat. Richard Wiles, President of the Center for Climate Integrity, describes California’s case as the most significant action against the oil and gas industry in US history. The companies named in the lawsuit, including Exxon, Chevron, Shell, BP, and ConocoPhillips, have not yet responded to the allegations.

According to the lawsuit, these oil companies deliberately downplayed the risks associated with fossil fuels while being aware that their products would contribute to global warming. It further alleges that the companies continued to mislead the public about their emission reduction efforts while profiting from fossil fuel production. Governor Gavin Newsom of California expressed his outrage, stating that the companies had vital information but chose to lie, resulting in significant consequences. The lawsuit claims that the companies created a public nuisance, caused environmental destruction, and violated false advertising and product liability laws.

The lawsuit argues that the oil companies’ deceptive practices have continued to the present day, with greenwashing efforts and a backtracking on emission reduction commitments. It also highlights the extensive damage caused by climate change in California, including heatwaves, droughts, wildfires, storms, coastal erosion, and biodiversity loss. Recognizing the growing number of climate lawsuits, the oil, gas, and coal companies previously attempted to move the cases to federal court, but the Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal, ensuring that the lawsuits remain in state court. California seeks the creation of a fund to cover the costs of recovery from extreme weather events, as well as mitigation and adaptation efforts.

Attorney General Rob Bonta, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of California, emphasizes the need for accountability and compares this case to a multi-decade campaign of pursuing profits at the expense of the planet. The lawsuit does not seek damages for a specific weather event but aims to establish a fund similar to the one created after a lead paint lawsuit.

The fossil fuel industry is currently facing numerous climate lawsuits, with cities and states seeking billions of dollars in damages. While some cases have employed the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act, the California lawsuit does not. Instead, it focuses on establishing a fund to cover the costs of climate-related damages. The outcome of this lawsuit could have significant implications for the oil, gas, and coal industry.

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