In a groundbreaking move, California has taken legal action against some of the world’s largest oil and gas companies, including Exxon Mobil, Shell, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and BP, along with the American Petroleum Institute (API). The lawsuit accuses these entities of engaging in a sustained campaign of deception about climate change and causing significant environmental damage in California.
The complaint, filed in San Francisco County Superior Court, alleges that these companies have possessed knowledge about the adverse climate impacts of burning fossil fuels since at least the 1960s. Despite this knowledge, they publicly denied or downplayed climate change while continuing to market their products.
California Attorney General Rob Bonta, representing the state’s residents, is seeking several remedies, including the creation of a fund to finance climate mitigation and adaptation efforts, injunctive relief to protect natural resources and prevent false statements about fossil fuel contributions to climate change, damages, and penalties.
Attorney General Bonta stated, “Oil and gas companies have privately known the truth for decades — that the burning of fossil fuels leads to climate change — but have fed us lies and mistruths to further their record-breaking profits at the expense of our environment. Enough is enough.”
Governor Gavin Newsom emphasized the enormous financial burden California has shouldered due to climate change-related damages and stated that taxpayers should not be responsible for these costs. The lawsuit aims to hold major polluters accountable for the environmental consequences of their actions.
The complaint includes substantial evidence demonstrating that the defendants were aware of the catastrophic effects of fossil fuel use. For example, in 1968, API received a report stating that significant temperature changes were likely by the year 2000, with severe potential environmental damage. An internal Exxon memo from 1978 acknowledged the urgency of addressing energy strategies.
Recent claims by these companies that they are part of the climate solution are contradicted by their actions. While Shell, for instance, publicly pledges to become a net-zero emissions energy business by 2050, its CEO stated that reducing oil and gas production would be “dangerous and irresponsible.”
This lawsuit marks a significant step in holding major oil companies accountable for their role in climate change and seeks to address the environmental and financial impacts of their actions on California and its residents.