By Karen Savage
Shell cannot stop a lawsuit accusing it of failing to protect its Providence Terminal from the impacts of climate change, according to an amicus brief filed Thursday by the state of Rhode Island, which was asked by the U.S. District Court to weigh in.
The suit was first filed against Shell in 2017 by the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), an environmental law and advocacy group. The suit alleges the oil giant has known for decades about the dangers of not protecting its facilities from the growing risks associated with climate change.
During the suit’s briefing period, the court asked the state to submit its opinion on whether the suit interferes with its ability to make policy. In the brief, the AG’s office said the lawsuit does not interfere with policy and the court should decide citizen-filed lawsuits such as this one.
CLF claims Shell is violating the conditions of its Clean Water Act permits by failing to prevent and monitor unlawful discharges of pollution and is failing to adequately plan for increasing amounts of stormwater runoff caused by climate change. The company’s Providence Terminal is located at the head of Narragansett Bay and is vulnerable to flooding due to sea level rise and increasingly severe storms.
The group also alleges that the terminal is in violation of the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which regulates hazardous waste.
Shell has argued the suit is an attempt to regulate its operations, which it contends is a role for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM).
“While the permitting function lies exclusively with the agencies, enforcement of the permit terms is shared by the agency and the citizen through the district courts,” said the Rhode Island AG’s office and RIDEM in the brief, which was filed Thursday.
The Rhode Island Attorney General’s office in 2018 filed a separate lawsuit against 21 companies—including oil giants Exxon, BP, Shell, Chevron and ConocoPhillips—alleging that they knowingly contributed to climate change and failed to adequately warn Rhode Island citizens about the risks posed by their products.
CLF filed a similar suit against ExxonMobil in 2016, alleging that the oil giant is failing to protect its Everett, Mass. oil terminal from the impacts of climate change.