Photographer: George Osodi/Bloomberg


Chevron Fights Cities' Climate Suits With ‘Creative Lawyering’

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If Chevron Corp. has caused climate change and has to pay for its damage, so should pretty much every company that’s ever explored for oil and gas near North America, as well as manufacturers of cars and equipment that burn fuel, plus consumers.

That’s Chevron’s response to lawsuits by San Francisco and Oakland, California, blaming “the nuisance of global warming” on decades of fossil fuel production. So Chevron turned around and sued Oslo-based Statoil ASA, calling it “one of many” oil producers that should help foot the bill if the industry is found liable. Several of the biggest -- BP Plc, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil Corp. and Royal Dutch Shell Plc -- were already named by the cities as defendants.

Adding foreign companies to the litigation is a tactical maneuver to keep the dispute out of state court, where the cities have more favorable prospects, and force it into federal court, said Julia Olson, chief legal counsel for the environmental law group Our Children’s Trust, which isn’t involved in the case.

“The industry is grasping at straws while looking for any way out of these cases and using creative lawyering to do so,” she said. “By cherry-picking Statoil, a sovereign Norwegian entity, Chevron hopes to reinforce federal jurisdiction.”

The cities are trying to make the companies pay into a fund for infrastructure needed to adapt to global warming, like sea walls for rising ocean levels. Similar complaints were filed by at least five other California cities and counties, as well as New York City. Several judges have seen previous climate suits as a political issue, and determined they would be “better resolved by legislatures or agencies,” said Emily Hammond, an energy and environment law professor at George Washington University.

“Perhaps Chevron is attempting to lay that foundation with this move,” said Hammond. “By naming Statoil as a defendant and highlighting the global nature of fossil-fuel extraction, Chevron may be hoping to tee-up reasons for a federal court to dismiss the case.”

A federal judge in San Francisco is scheduled Thursday to decide whether the cases should stay there or proceed in the superior courts of Alameda and San Francisco counties. Statoil declined to comment on Chevron’s tactics, with a spokesman saying he didn’t know whether his company was notified before Chevron sued it.

The cases are People of the State of California v. BP Plc, 17-cv-06011 and 17-cv-06012, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).

— With assistance by Mikael Holter

(Updates with comment in fifth paragraph. An earlier version was corrected to say that only Chevron filed the complaint against Statoil.)
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