By Karen Savage
In trying to get the District of Columbia’s climate fraud case against them moved to federal court, ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron, and Shell are mischaracterizing the suit and do not have a reasonable argument, according to D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine.
In a brief filed Monday, Racine said the case—which accuses the companies of violating D.C.’s Consumer Protection Act with a coordinated, decades-long campaign to mislead the public about the risks their products pose to the climate—belongs in state court, where it was filed in June.
The companies moved the case to federal court shortly after it was filed and argue that Racine is attempting to use the consumer protection act “as a vehicle to force defendants to discontinue or reduce their extraction, production, and sale of fossil fuels around the world.”
Racine pushed back on that contention, telling the court that the companies’ argument for federal jurisdiction “distorts the district’s complaint in an effort to convert this case into something it is not.”
D.C.’s case “seeks only to stop and penalize defendants’ ongoing deceptive conduct in the marketing of their products to D.C. consumers,” Racine wrote. He 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.
Racine said Exxon tried to similarly distort a complaint filed last year by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. In that instance, the court “rejected the defendant’s improper rewrite and remanded the case to state court,” Racine wrote.
Racine told the court that despite the companies’ “far-fetched political conspiracy theories,” D.C.’s suit is not asking the court to determine “the appropriate level of fossil fuels,” as the defendants have argued.
“The District alleges that defendants had longstanding internal knowledge of certain climate change information and made deceptive and material misrepresentations and omissions to District consumers about the detrimental impacts of their fossil fuel products on the climate and about Defendants’ commitment (or lack thereof) to renewable energy sources and reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” Racine wrote.
“The District seeks to stop this deceptive marketing, not the extraction, production, sale, or use of fossil fuels. In short, this is a suit properly brought under local law to address a local problem: that defendants have violated District law and the District’s right to further and maintain a fair marketplace and consumers’ right to truthful information about the products they buy in the District.”
The issue of jurisdiction has been a key point of contention in dozens of climate change-related cases filed by municipalities across the country. Fossil fuel companies want the cases to be heard in federal court, where in the past they have had better success shaking climate change-related cases. Municipalities say the cases should be heard in state court, where most have been filed alleging violations of state law. The First, Fourth, Ninth, and Tenth Circuits have upheld determinations by several federal courts that the cases belong in state courts.
The U.S. Supreme Court in October granted a petition by several defendant companies in a suit filed against them by Baltimore and agreed to weigh in on a procedural question related to the Fourth Circuit’s review of the lower court’s decision. The defendants on Monday asked the high court to expand their review and to make a jurisdictional determination for all climate change-related lawsuits.