New Jersey sues fossil fuel companies over climate change, citing 10th anniversary of Superstorm Sandy – The Philadelphia Inquirer
New Jersey officials announced Tuesday that the state has filed suit against five fossil fuel companies, accusing the multinationals of a pattern of “obfuscation and delay” that “lasted decades” in deceiving residents and ultimately resulting in catastrophic storm and flood damage.
The civil suit was filed in New Jersey Superior Court in Mercer County. It names Exxon Mobil Corp., Shell Oil Co., Chevron Corp., BP, and ConocoPhillips as defendants, as well as the American Petroleum Institute, a trade group.
New Jersey joins at least two dozen U.S. states and municipalities, including Hoboken, that have sued petroleum companies seeking damages related to climate change.
“In fact, 10 years ago … Superstorm Sandy made landfall, leaving behind a trail of devastation the likes of which the state has never seen,” said Matthew Platkin, New Jersey’s attorney general, said during the announcement at Liberty State Park. “I know many of you do not need a reminder of Sandy’s impact … which brings us to why we’re here today,” “Because today we begin to right the wrongs inflicted on our residents by companies who deliberately chose profits over our global environment, and the well being of our residents.”
Dozens of people died in New Jersey after the storm made landfall near Atlantic City on Oct. 29, 2012, causing $30 billion in property damage.
He accused the multinational companies of “deceiving consumers and for the harm that their dishonesty has caused … from our historic cities to our iconic shorelines.”
The state is seeking unspecified compensation and is asking the court, “to order the defendants to stop their lying.”
Platkin said the companies’ own experts and research demonstrated decades ago that their products would “causing global warming, melting polar ice caps and triggering sea level rise that threatened people living in coastal communities.”
The companies “have known since the 1950s that their fossil fuel products are a main driver of global climate change, and they’ve worked very hard to keep our residents in the dark,” Platkin said.
Casey Norton, a spokesperson for Exxon Mobil, said in an email that, “Legal proceedings like this waste millions of dollars of taxpayer money and do nothing to advance meaningful actions that reduce the risks of climate change. ExxonMobil will continue to invest in efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while meeting society’s growing demand for energy.”
Anna Arata, a spokesperson for Shell, said in an email that “We agree that action is needed now on climate change, we fully support the need for society to transition to a lower-carbon future and we’re committed to playing our part by addressing our own emissions and helping customers to reduce theirs. … We do not believe the courtroom is the right venue to address climate change.”
And Theodore J. Boutrous, Jr. of Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher, counsel for Chevron Corp., called the filing “a distraction from the serious problem of global climate change, not an attempt to find a real solution.”
Regardless, Shawn LaTourette, commissioner of the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, accused the companies of “obfuscation and delay.” He cited the remnants of Hurricane Ida in 2021 as another example of a storm energized at least in part by climate change.
“So within 10 years,” LaTourette said, “New Jersey experienced two of the most devastating life altering storms in our history. And that’s in no small part because of our state’s our nation’s, and indeed the world’s, addiction to fossil fuels.”
“New Jersey is facing a greater risk of sea level rise two times greater than most other places on the planet,” LaTourette said, noting that the state has seen extreme precipitation rise over the past 20 years, and expects that to continue.
Cari Fais, acting director of the Division of Consumer Affairs, said the companies deliberately misled the public.
“This remarkably effective disinformation campaign lasted decades, and prevented urgently needed corrective action from happening,” Fais said. “Now, we’re all paying the price.”
Anjuli Ramos-Busot, New Jersey director of the Sierra Club, said, “It’s about time for them to start paying for the damages they have brought to our environment and to our people.”
The Center for Climate Integrity, a nonprofit advocacy group, said that since 2017, the attorneys general of Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Vermont, the District of Columbia have filed similar suits, as well as 20 city and county governments. Five federal appeals courts, the center said, have ruled that climate accountability lawsuits can proceed.
A consumer fraud lawsuit by Massachusetts against ExxonMobil, and Honolulu’s lawsuit also against Exxon and other companies are “positioned to be the first to head toward trial in state court,” the center said.