Landmark Climate Change Lawsuit to Proceed in Colorado State Court
October 9, 2019, Washington, D.C.– A pending climate accountability case made legal history yesterday when it became the first case of its kind to return to state court. EarthRights International, the Niskanen Center, and Denver attorney Kevin Hannon are representing Boulder County, San Miguel County, and the City of Boulder in a lawsuit against Exxon Mobil and Suncor for their roles in the climate crisis. About a dozen similar cases have been filed across the country, but the defendants have tried to move them to federal courts where they believe they will have an advantage; yesterday the Colorado case became the first to return to state court.
In September, federal judge William J. Martinez ruled that the case should proceed in Boulder County District Court. The defendants asked for a stay of this ruling while they appealed and, yesterday, Judge Martinez denied their request.
In response to this week’s development, Marco Simons, General Counsel for EarthRights, issued the following statement:
“This is another significant victory for our clients and communities in Colorado. Judge Martinez appropriately returned this case to state court without further delay. This sends a definitive message to oil companies like Exxon Mobil and Suncor that they cannot avoid justice in the local courts of the communities that their actions have harmed. We welcome this development as a critical step forward in alleviating the financial burden that climate change is imposing on communities in Colorado. It is not fair for those costs to fall on taxpayers, particularly when these corporations profited from contributing to the climate crisis. We look forward to representing these communities in court.”
Boulder County, San Miguel County, and the City of Boulder sued Suncor and Exxon in April of 2018 for the costs that they face due to climate harms. Colorado is one of the fastest-warming U.S. states, and these communities continue to experience problems associated with rising temperatures, including more frequent and destructive wildfires, droughts, and heatwaves; a reduced snowpack; degraded air quality; and more. Over the next three decades, these communities are expected to face costs reaching hundreds of millions of dollars or more to adapt to and mitigate the impacts of climate change. A recent survey by the Yale Program on Climate Change and the Union of Concerned Scientists found that 57 percent of Americans agree that fossil fuel companies should pay for some portion of damages from global warming; in Denver, over 58 percent of adults agree with that idea.
Three other federal judges have also ordered that climate accountability cases should return to state court. At the moment, those orders are all stayed. In a case brought by San Mateo County, California, the court stayed its ruling to allow the defendants to appeal. In cases brought by the City of Baltimore and the State of Rhode Island, the federal district courts and the courts of appeal have both denied stays, but the defendants have petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for a stay; the Supreme Court has not yet ruled.
In the Colorado case, Boulder County v. Suncor, the oil companies will next be required to respond to the complaint, most likely in November or December.
Contact: Kate Fried, EarthRights International
(202) 466.5188 x100