Nearly 10 years after Superstorm Sandy, New Jersey officials announced a lawsuit against five oil and gas companies for allegedly misleading the public about their impact on climate change at a Liberty State Park press conference in Jersey City this afternoon.
The 200-page lawsuit was filed in Mercer County Superior Court against ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron, Shell, the American Petroleum Institute and their subsidiaries by the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, NJ Department of Environmental Protection, and NJ Division of Consumer Affairs.
“Nearly 10 years ago, in fact 10 years ago next Tuesday, Superstorm Sandy made landfall, leaving behind a trail of devastation – the likes of which the state has never seen,” state Attorney General Matthew Platkin recalled.
“I know many of you do not need a reminder of Sandy’s impact: more than 300,000 roads were damaged, 600 roads were closed, over half the state lost power, and tragically, 38 people passed away. All told, Sandy cost $30 billion in property damage.”
Platkin also noted that neighboring Hoboken, who filed a similar lawsuit just over two years ago, was about 80 percent underwater due to Sandy, along with catastrophic damage throughout the shore region, Liberty State Park, and Atlantic City.
Acknowledging that Sandy originated in the Caribbean Sea, he said it would have never wreaked the havoc that it did if it was not for climate change.
“We now know that climate change is a man made phenomenon caused by the burning of fossil fuels: fossil fuels that are put into the market by oil and gas companies without any warning of their damages,” Platkin explained.
“Had we known this earlier, had we been advised and warned of the dangers of these products, we could have taken actions that would have mitigated, or even eliminated, many of the risks of climate change – including the prevalence of dangerous storms like Sandy.”
According to the complaint, the oil and gas companies researched the link between fossil-fuel consumption and climate change starting as early as the 1950s, and by the mid-60s gained a comprehensive understanding of the adverse climate impacts of fossil fuels.
“New Jersey is ground zero for some of the worst impacts of climate change. Our communities and environment are continually recovering from extreme heat, furious storms, and devastating floods,” said NJ DEP Commissioner Shawn LaTourette.
“These conditions will sadly only worsen in the decades ahead, leaving us scrambling to prepare for a parade of harmful climate changes.”
Internal fossil fuel industry documents reveal how the oil and gas producers’ scientists predicted that ongoing burning of fossil fuels would cause “dramatic environmental effects,” warning corporate executives that the world had a narrow window of time to curb emissions and stave off “catastrophic” climate change.
However, instead of warning the public or the state about the danger, they launched public-relations campaigns to sow doubts about the existence, causes, and effects of climate change with the goal of confusing the public, delaying the transition to a lower carbon economy and future, increasing their own profits, and further deepening dependence on their products.
“Our state is paying dearly for these defendants’ misrepresentations and failure to disclose the enormous detriments of their products. They should now help to shoulder that tremendous financial burden,” added Acting DCA Director Cari Fais.
Furthermore, the complaint alleges the defendant fossil fuel companies violated the Consumer Fraud Act by misrepresenting, suppressing, and omitting material facts about the adverse impacts of their products through a national climate-denialist campaign starting in the 1980s and continuing through today, in which they used industry associations and front groups such as API to disseminate false and misleading information about climate change.
The complaint further alleges the companies fell short of their legal obligation to warn consumers about all the hidden or latent dangers arising from the use of their products. The complaint also alleges negligence, impairment of the public trust, trespass, and public nuisance.
Mayor Ravi Bhalla, who saw their complaint had back to NJ after an appeal by the defendants failed in August, lauded the action the state made public today.
“It is abundantly clear that Big Oil’s decades long campaign of misinformation has had an outsized impact on coastal cities like Hoboken, as we are forced to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to adapt to climate change,” he said in a statement.
“It’s well past time that they pay their fair share and are held accountable for their actions. I’m grateful that the State is taking this critical and necessary step.”
Theodore J. Boutrous, Jr., counsel for the Chevron Corporation and of Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher, called the lawsuit “a distraction” from real solutions, as well as “legally and factually meritless.”
“Today’s filing is a distraction from the serious problem of global climate change, not an attempt to find a real solution. Like the others in the series brought by the same private plaintiffs lawyers, it is a special-interest lawsuit asking the Superior Court of New Jersey to punish a select group of energy companies for a problem that is the result of worldwide conduct stretching back to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution,” he said in his own statement.
“These suits serve only to divert attention and resources away from the collaborative, international efforts that are critical to developing a meaningful solution to climate change. Chevron believes that the claims asserted are legally and factually meritless, and will demonstrate that in court. In the meantime, Chevron will continue working with other stakeholders in the public and private sectors to craft real solutions to global climate change.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated with a comment from Theodore J. Boutrous, Jr., counsel for the Chevron Corporation.