Attorney General James Joins Brief In Support Of Lawsuit By Oakland And San Francisco Communities To Hold Big Oil Accountable For Costs Of Sea-Level Rise

NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James today joined a multistate coalition to file an amicus brief in support of the City of Oakland and the City and County of San Francisco in their lawsuit, City of Oakland and City and County of San Francisco. v. BP, et al., to hold petroleum and coal companies accountable for actions contributing to climate change and the resulting harms from sea-level rise and other effects. 

“It is undeniable that Big Oil is devastating our planet,” said Attorney General Letitia James. “The actions of these companies are felt in communities throughout our country and will only worsen in the absence of immediate action. We all play a role in holding these companies accountable for the harm they are causing Americans and our environment.” 

In their suit, the California cities and county allege that the companies’ conduct exacerbates global warming and its impacts, including hotter temperatures, extreme weather events, rising sea level, and other irreversible harms – leaving local governments to manage the full costs of inundation, erosion, flooding, property damage, and threats to the health and safety of residents. Research by the State of California projects San Francisco’s coastline to rise by as much as 10 feet by 2100. In Oakland and San Francisco, property worth billions of dollars is located six feet or less above current sea levels. In San Francisco alone, bayside sea-level rise from global warming places at risk at least $10 billion of public property and as much as $39 billion of private property. 

The case is currently pending in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals after the oil companies removed the coastal communities’ suit from state to federal court, where the cases were then dismissed. In the brief, the coalition of 11 attorneys general assert that the district court decisions failing to send the cases back to state court and then dismissing the cases should be reversed.  

The coalition argues that: 

  • States play an important role in addressing climate change and protect human welfare, including providing a forum to decide cases related to climate change and enacting policies and programs to mitigate its effects; 
  • The Clean Air Act recognizes states’ role in reducing air pollution and does not indicate that the federal courts should have exclusive jurisdiction over cases involving climate change; 
  • The defendants’ transfer of the plaintiffs cases to federal court, and the subsequent dismissal of those claims, were incorrect interpretation of the law and, if left in place, would unjustly deny plaintiffs a remedy for harm. 

Joining Attorney General James in filing the brief are the Attorneys General of California, Connecticut, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia.