NJ files massive lawsuit against big oil companies
The state of New Jersey has filed a lawsuit against five oil and gas companies and a petroleum trade association alleging they knowingly made false claims to deceive the public about climate change, and the impact fossil fuels released into the atmosphere would have on global warming.
During a news conference in part of an area at Liberty State Park on Tuesday that was covered by 5 feet of floodwater during Superstorm Sandy 10 years ago, state Attorney General Matt Platkin said the lawsuit in state Superior Court seeks to hold Exxon Mobil, Shell Oil, Chevron, BP, ConocoPhillips and the American Petroleum Institute accountable “for unlawfully deceiving consumers, and for the harm their dishonesty has caused to the people of New Jersey.”
They knew what was happening, NJ says
Platkin said it is alleged these 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.”
He said Big Oil knew decades ago that fossil fuels were causing global warming, melting polar ice caps and triggered sea level rise threatening people living in coastal communities.
“Their own scientific experts warned long ago that the ongoing burning of fossil fuels would be, and I quote, catastrophic for the planet, and could have 'serious consequences for man’s comfort and survival.'”
He said corporate executives knew that by the time global warming became detectable it could be too late to take effective counter-measures.
They covered it up, NJ says
“The defendants not only failed to warn the public but they actively lied to us for decades to cover it up,” said Platkin. “They led a decades long disinformation campaign.”
He said this was done to preserve their market for their commodities at the expense of the global environment.
Platkin said because oil companies knew about climate change and global warming, even though they denied it was happening, they took steps to protect their own assets, raising offshore drilling platforms to account for sea level rise and securing patents for drilling in the Arctic, knowing that the polar ice caps would be melting.
He would not speculate how much of a monetary award the state could ultimately receive from the lawsuit but he did say the court will be asked to order the defendants to stop their lying and to pay for the cost of their conduct, which could possibly run into the billions of dollars.
“This lawsuit will seek administrative penalties, compensatory damages, natural resource damages and punitive damages,” he said.
Platkin said the lawsuit has been filed along with the DEP and the Division of Consumer affairs to begin to right the wrongs inflicted on New Jerseyans “by companies that deliberately chose profits over our global environment and the well-being of our residents.”
Platkin added it is long overdue “that these betrayals of their customers and of the public come to an end, and that the perpetrators of these lies pay for their conduct and that the people of New Jersey receive restitution for all that they have lost.”
The suit has been filed under the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act as well as the common law related to failure to warn, negligence, trespass and impairing the state’s public trust.
Acting New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs director Cari Fais said the property damage caused by climate change has been tremendous and the loss of life a tragedy.
She said the case is also about getting justice “for those who had to be rescued from rising flood waters by first responders and it’s about justice for those who were swept away before help could arrive.”
She said oil companies continue to spread lies about how they are trying to protect the environment and “it is long overdue that these defendants stop feeding the public bad information and start paying for damages caused by their false statements.”
New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection commissioner Shawn LaTourette said “our communities and environment are continually recovering from extreme heat, furious storms, and devastating floods. These conditions will sadly only worsen in the decades ahead, leaving us scrambling to prepare for a parade of harmful climate changes.
New Jersey is not alone
Over the past five years, the attorneys general of Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Vermont and the District of Columbia, along with 20 city and county governments in eight states, have filed lawsuits against major oil and gas corporations for deliberately misleading and deceiving the public about the roll their products have played in climate change.
In addition to asking the court for an injunction ordering the energy companies to stop deceiving New Jersey consumers about the destructive environmental impacts of fossil fuels, the state is seeking civil monetary penalties and damages, including natural resource damages such as the loss of substantial wetlands throughout the State
The lawsuit alleges taxpayers will be saddled with billions in expenses to protect communities from rising sea levels, deadlier storms, and other climate-related harms and to mitigate those harms by transitioning to non-fossil fuel energy generation — costs that should be borne by the defendants.
Reaction to the lawsuit
When asked to comment on the lawsuit, a spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute released the following statement:
“The record of the past two decades demonstrates that the industry has achieved its goal of providing affordable, reliable American energy to U.S. consumers while substantially reducing emissions and our environmental footprint. Any suggestion to the contrary is false.”
State Sen. Jim Holzapfel, R-Ocean, said the state's litigation would lead to even higher gas prices.
"Instead of fighting to increase domestic oil production and lower costs for consumers, Governor Murphy continues to use taxpayer funds to pay for unnecessary lawsuits to advance his expensive progressive agenda," the lawmaker said Tuesday.
David Matthau is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at email@example.com
Click here to contact an editor about feedback or a correction for this story.