Fossil Fuel Companies Have to Face Accountability for Climate Change

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Last week, we proudly stood in front of the Boulder Courthouse together with the Colorado communities of Boulder County, San Miguel County, and the City of Boulder, to announce a lawsuit against Suncor and ExxonMobil, two of the biggest and dirtiest fossil fuel producers in the world. We demanded that these companies pay their fair share of the costs associated with climate change impacts so that the costs do not fall disproportionately on Colorado taxpayers.

Burning fossil fuels, such as coal and gas, accounts for most of the world’s global warming. Some say we have harmed the planet sufficiently that there is no going back. We are already seeing the effects—droughts, floods and storms. Climate change is here and now, and it is only going to get worse.

As of last week, there are ten lawsuits in the United States against fossil fuel corporations that knew their products would cause climate change and harm communities. Nine of the climate lawsuits have been filed by coastal governments like San Francisco and New York City. Ours is the tenth case and the first in the country’s interior.  Just like coastal communities, mountain communities are on the front lines of climate change. They are already experiencing trends in heat rise, drought, and more frequent wildfires. Colorado is one of the fastest warming states in the country.

In fact, this is not the only first. For years, ERI has brought cases in U.S. courts against companies involved in human rights and environmental abuses—but most of these cases involved abuses taking place overseas in developing countries. This is the first case ERI has filed in the U.S. about harms occurring in the U.S. Climate change affects us all. Climate change is here, and it is now.

Over the next few decades, climate change is going to create profound threats to Colorado’s local economy, health, and safety. In addition to the trends these communities are already seeing, they are projected to face an additional increase in heat rise, drought, wildfire frequency and area size, more intense short-duration rainfall, earlier spring melt, and more precipitation falling as rain rather than snow.

For decades, these companies have known about the danger of their products. They have known about the costs that communities like those in Colorado would face. Yet they continued business-as-usual. And not only that, they actively tried to create doubt about the existence of climate change. They were successful, and now we have lost decades that we could have used to adapt. The fact that these companies are investing in even more dangerous products, like petroleum coke from tar sands, illustrates how reckless they are.

This lawsuit is about paying for the costs of climate change, including necessary adaptations to make our communities more resilient and less vulnerable to climate impacts. This lawsuit is also about fairness and justice, and it’s high time these companies help pay for solutions rather than causing problems in this crisis.

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