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NYC sues oil companies over effects of fossil fuels

The lawsuit argues that fossil fuels produced by five companies are the primary cause of global warming, and the companies knew their products would cause ‘catastrophic harm.’

Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration is suing big

Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration is suing big oil companies, blaming them for climate change that is impacting New York City residents. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

The de Blasio administration is suing some of the world’s biggest oil companies to recoup the billions of dollars that New York City claims it must spend to protect New Yorkers from climate change.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, said the city also would study how to divest the city’s civil servant pension funds from fossil-fuel investments, now worth about $5 billion. The funds are worth a total of $189 billion.

The 67-page suit, filed Tuesday in Manhattan federal court, says that the fossil fuels the companies produce are the primary cause of climate change and the firms “had full knowledge that fossil fuels would cause catastrophic harm” yet are “denying or downplaying those threats.”

At a news conference in lower Manhattan, an audience of environmentalists booed and groaned as de Blasio listed the five defendants, which he said were the largest investor-owned fossil fuel companies as measured by contributions to global warming: BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, and Royal Dutch Shell.

“We’re going after those who have profited,” he said. “And what a horrible, disgusting way to profit.”

The administration’s top lawyer, corporation counsel Zachary Carter, said one theory of the suit, case no. 18-cv-182, is that the firms pose a nuisance.

“Certainly, the magnitude of past expenditures in dealing with the resiliency issues and remediating from the devastating effects of Sandy has been in the billions,” he said, referring to the 2012 superstorm. “We certainly forecast that similar expenditure will be necessary going forward.”

ExxonMobil’s corporate media relations manager, Scott J. Silvestri, said in a prepared statement that “lawsuits of this kind” are “filed by trial attorneys against an industry that provides products we all rely upon to power the economy and enable our domestic life.”

Daren Beaudo, ConocoPhillips’ director of media relations and crisis communications, said the company doesn’t comment on pending litigation. BP, Chevron and Royal Dutch didn’t return messages seeking comment.

The city’s largest pension funds — New York City Employees’ Retirement System and the Teachers’ Retirement System — are on board to try to divest by 2022, said Daniel Zarrilli, de Blasio’s senior director of climate policy and programs.

There are about 190 fossil-fuel firms in which the pension funds are invested, and NYCERS and the Teachers Retirement System make up about two-thirds of those investments. De Blasio’s team hopes that the other funds will join, too.

For the plan to go through, the trustees of the city’s five funds must agree and conclude that divestiture is in the best interest of the pensioners.

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