By Karen Savage
ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron, and Shell want Washington D.C.’s climate deception lawsuit against them moved to federal court.
In a motion filed Friday in U.S. District Court, attorneys for the companies said the suit, filed last month in Washington D.C. Superior Court, should be removed to federal court because it involves federal regulatory, statutory and constitutional climate change issues.
The removal of the suit to federal court follows a pattern set by fossil fuel companies, which have fought to move the nearly two dozen cases filed against them to federal court, where they believe the cases are more likely to be dismissed. So far, almost all of them have been remanded back to state court as a string of federal judges have decided they involve state laws and not federal issues.
D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine alleges the companies knew as early as the 1950s that emissions from their products posed an existential threat to humanity, but failed to warn consumers and engaged in a long campaign of deception to cast doubt on climate research in order to protect their profits. That, the lawsuit alleges, violates the district’s consumer protection law. The city is asking the court for an injunction to prevent the companies from engaging in further violations and to compensate the city for damage they have caused.
The companies maintain the suit is part of a plot by activist lawyers and an attempt to “shape the nation’s energy policy.”
“The federal government has already addressed—and is currently addressing—climate change through domestic statutes and regulations and international agreements.” Exxon attorneys, who spoke on behalf of all the defendants, wrote.
Under President Trump, the federal government has continually backed out of policies addressing climate change, including by withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement and rolling back nearly 100 environmental and climate change-related regulations.
Exxon and the other oil giants say D.C.’s suit belongs in federal court because it involves potential damage to military installations like the Marine Barracks and the Naval Observatory, as well as federally owned facilities like the Smithsonian Institution, and as well as monuments and parks controlled by the National Park Service. The companies also argue that the “District of Columbia consumers,” should be the plaintiff, not the District of Columbia itself.
Other courts have already rejected several of the fossil fuel companies’ arguments, including the contention that the Federal Officer Removal Statute—which gives federal courts jurisdiction over civil actions directed at the United States or any federal official—applies. That argument has been rebuffed by courts in Massachusetts, Maryland, Colorado and California and those rulings have thus far been upheld on appeal.
D.C. will have an opportunity to reply and oral arguments will likely be held later this year.