On April 24, 2021, the United States Supreme Court issued a decision allowing lawsuits filed by municipalities seeking to hold oil companies accountable for harms caused by carbon emissions to move forward in state courts.
The decision was a blow for business interests, as the court turned away oil company appeals in cases involving claims brought by cities and municipalities in Colorado, Maryland, California, Hawaii, and Rhode Island.
The decision allows these local governments to proceed with their lawsuits against major oil companies, including BP, Chevron, and Shell, among others, as part of efforts to hold businesses accountable for the effects of climate change.
The legal issue at stake in these lawsuits is whether the cases should be heard in state court or federal court. This is an important issue for the litigants because plaintiffs have better chances of winning damage awards in state courts.
The lawsuits claim that the municipalities have been harmed by the effects of climate change caused by carbon emissions that the oil companies are heavily responsible for.
The decision sets an important precedent for future lawsuits and represents a critical victory for climate activists and climate litigation.
Business groups expressed disappointment with the decision, arguing that climate issues should be dealt with at the national or international levels. However, supporters of the lawsuits argue that local governments, funded by taxpayers, often pay for adaptation systems and disaster response to deal with the impacts of climate change, and therefore, it is only fair that oil companies should help foot the bill.