Court Case in Hawaii against Fossil Fuel Companies Passes Major Milestone
A court case brought forth by the state of Hawaii against several fossil fuel companies has made a significant step forward. A major turning point for the case occurred when a judge ruled that it could proceed further and this may pave the way for more similar lawsuits in the future.
The lawsuit accuses oil and gas companies of creating an ongoing public nuisance through their actions in producing and selling fossil fuels, which contribute to climate change.
Tobacco companies also have been subject to multiple lawsuits over the past century. One case, brought by the state of Minnesota was able to proceed through discovery and reveal internal tobacco company documents. The use of these findings put an end to the tobacco industry’s long-running lobbying arm and ultimately shut down. They paid out millions in fines and settlements.
Large oil and gas companies are major contributors to climate change
In an effort to raise awareness of catastrophic climate change issues and push new policies that would lead the U.S. away from its reliance on fossil fuels, a class-action lawsuit is filed in court against some of the world’s largest oil and gas producers (ExxonMobil Corp., Chevron Corp., Sunoco, Shell Oil, and other companies).
This suit alleges that these companies knew about the effects of global warming over two decades ago but denied it anyway. The plaintiffs contend these delays in informing people caused many adverse consequences such as higher levels of heat waves, storms, flooding, and rising sea levels (more than 3 feet) which have intensified because they have been inactive regarding large-scale environmental legislation. This would cause disastrous consequences including inevitably resulting in a loss of land mass and biodiversity.
It’s been revealed that for more than five decades, members of the fossil fuel industry have been well aware of the detrimental effects their products can have on our environment. Instead of taking responsibility for this knowledge and doing something about it, they’ve chosen to ignore this potential disaster and even discredit those who point out these facts.
Achieving the Discovery stage
Honolulu filed a lawsuit in March 2020 against several large fossil fuel corporations, they have been pursuing justice for two years now. Honolulu City Council member Radiant Cordero commented on this recent decision by saying, with these rulings, create a precedent whereby it can be determined that these endangering actions will not go unnoticed.
What sets Hawaii’s lawsuit apart from other climate misinformation cases is that this is the first one to reach the “Discovery” stage. After denying discovery requests three times, fossil fuel companies were ordered to produce internal communications and information which they had previously been withholding.
A hope for an Emission-Free future
Climate lawsuits like the one in Hawaii are designing a future where we can still live and make sure that companies who contribute to high amounts of greenhouse gas emissions are held accountable. It takes community collaboration, scientific research, legal work, and persistence.
In May 2019, for example, UCS attended a public forum on climate liability and briefed Honolulu city, county, and state officials about how fossil fuel companies are liable based on it. Honolulu City Council Chairman Tommy Waters spoke about the importance of this ruling stating that it was a big and important win. He went on to say, not only in the sense of legal justice but also for our local residents.
This decision will undoubtedly affect many other cases which claim that oil and gas companies should be held responsible for their intentional decision to spread disinformation. In the US, many states including Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts and Minnesota are working and suing major fossil fuel companies for their deception and damage done to Earth through global warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions from burning oil or coal.