by THE OKLAHOMAN EDITORIAL BOARD
Published: Thu, July 5, 2018 12:00 AM
IN suing major oil companies, two California cities claimed fossil fuel production contributes to global warming and is therefore a “public nuisance” that should require those companies to pay billions for mitigation efforts. A federal judge has dismissed this claim, and his reasoning should cheer anyone concerned about serious policymaking.
U.S. District Judge William Alsup called the plaintiffs' theory “breathtaking,” noting it rested “on the sweeping proposition that otherwise lawful and everyday sales of fossil fuels, combined with an awareness that greenhouse gas emissions lead to increased global temperatures, constitute a public nuisance.” Defendants were targeted “not for their own emissions of greenhouse gases, but for their sale of fossil fuels to those who eventually burn the fuel.”
While stating he agreed the climate is warming and fossil fuels contribute, Alsup noted a “balancing of policy concerns” is required. While fossil fuel use may harm the environment, it has also been a boon to humanity.
“Our industrial revolution and the development of our modern world has literally been fueled by oil and coal," Alsup wrote. "Without those fuels, virtually all of our monumental progress would have been impossible. All of us have benefited. Having reaped the benefit of that historic progress, would it really be fair to now ignore our own responsibility in the use of fossil fuels and place the blame for global warming on those who supplied what we demanded?”
He also noted “not long ago, the problem wasn't too much oil, but too little, and our national policy emphasized the urgency of reducing dependence on foreign oil,” citing congressional laws that encouraged domestic production.
“This order fully accepts the vast scientific consensus that the combustion of fossil fuels has materially increased atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, which in turn has increased the median temperature of the planet and accelerated sea level rise,” Alsup wrote. “But questions of how to appropriately balance these worldwide negatives against the worldwide positives of the energy itself, and of how to allocate the pluses and minuses among the nations of the world, demand the expertise of our environmental agencies, our diplomats, our Executive, and at least the Senate. Nuisance suits in various United States judicial districts regarding conduct worldwide are far less likely to solve the problem and, indeed, could interfere with reaching a worldwide consensus.”
San Francisco and Oakland had sued Chevron, Exxon, BP, Shell and ConocoPhillips, the five largest investor-owned oil and gas producers. But the cities didn't similarly target large state-owned producers around the globe. Thus, even had the lawsuit succeeded, it would have little impact on alleged man-made warming because other producers would quickly fill the gap.
As Alsup noted, policy should balance global warming concerns against the unbounded good created by fossil fuel use. While environmentalists avert their eyes from this fact, pollution and consumption of natural resources would likely be far worse without the benefits associated with oil and gas.
It's welcome news that this lawsuit, always more a cash grab than serious policy effort, has been consigned to the trash bin.
Read this article on NewsOK: https://bit.ly/2Nu8pKf.