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Chicago Launches Climate Change Lawsuit Against Oil Industry

— February 22, 2024

“Both the facts, and the law, are on our side,” Chicago Alderman Matt Martin said.

Chicago has filed a lawsuit against six oil companies and a fossil fuel lobbying organization, claiming that they planned and funded a long-running campaign of climate change denial that has hurt the city and its residents.

According to The Hill, the lawsuit names defendants including BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Philips 66, Shell, and the American Petroleum Institute. Each of the defendants allegedly misled the public about how their products impact the environment, misrepresenting the potential effects of global warming on Chicago’s climate.

These impacts, the city’s legal team says, range from higher summertime temperatures to an increased number of extreme weather events, shoreline erosion, and an elevated risk of flash flooding in basements across Chicago’s West Side.

To counter these anticipated changes, the city has invested an estimated $200 million in projects intended to mitigate the consequences of climate change in low-income communities.

The lawsuit also takes particular issue with the American Petroleum Institute, the fossil fuel industry’s main lobbying organization, for its efforts “to promote climate disinformation and advocacy from a purportedly objective source.”

An aerial view of the Chicago shoreline. Image by Ryan J. Farrick.

“There is no justice without accountability,” Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson said in a statement on Tuesday. “From the unprecedented poor air quality that we experienced last summer to the basement floodings that our residents on the West Side experienced, the consequences of this crisis are severe, as are the costs of surviving.”

“That,” Johnson said, “is why we are seeking to hold these Defendants accountable.”

Richard Wiles, the president of the non-profit Center for Climate Integrity, told The Guardian that cities like Chicago are simply seeking to recover costs meted out by the oil industry.

“Big Oil has lied to the American people for decades about the catastrophic climate risks of their products, and now Chicago and communities across the country are rightfully insisting they pay for the damage they’ve caused,” said Wiles, whose organization is supporting the city’s lawsuit.

“With Chicago—the nation’s third-largest city—joining the fray, there is no doubt that we are witnessing a historic wave of lawsuits that could finally hold Big Oil accountable for the climate crisis they knowingly caused,” he said.

But the American Petroleum Institute and its allies have since characterized the city’s claims as “meritless” and “politicized,” saying that oil companies work to provide “affordable, reliable” energy.

“The record of the past two decades demonstrates that the industry has achieved its goal of providing affordable, reliable American energy to U.S. consumers while substantially reducing emissions and our environmental footprint,” API Senior Vice President and General Counsel Ryan Meyers told The Hill.  “This ongoing, coordinated campaign to wage meritless, politicized lawsuits against a foundational American industry and its workers is nothing more than a distraction from important national conversations and an enormous waste of taxpayer resources. Climate policy is for Congress to debate and decide, not a patchwork of city halls and courts.”

However, Chicago Alderman Matt Martin suggested that the city’s action could force the oil industry to finally be held accountable for its lies.

“Both the facts, and the law, are on our side,” he said.


Chicago sues fossil fuel companies for role in climate crisis

Chicago sues oil companies for impacts of climate change

City of Chicago sues oil companies, accuses them of deception about products’ climate dangers

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