Hoboken, New Jersey Sues Oil Industry for Climate Impacts From its ‘Deceptive Actions’

Jerri-Lynn here. I was tracking the progress of these state and municipal climate lawsuits earlier, long before I first started posting for Naked Capitalism. For some of my Naked Capitalism accounts, see here and here.

But then the coronavirus crisis intervened and diverted my attention.

Fortunately DeSmogBlog has stayed on the climate change liability beat. And since it’s now rather clear that coronavirus is here to stay, at least for the time being. I should make up somewhat for my months of neglect by crossposting Dana Drugmond’s account about the Hoboken suit. Not only is this post worth reading, but another recent one is as well, Latest Youth Climate Lawsuit Filed Against 33 European Countries Over Human Rights.

By Dana Drugmand, a freelance writer and attorney who writes about climate issues. Originally published at DeSmog Blog

New Jersey has now joined the wave of lawsuits seeking to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for climate impacts. The city of Hoboken today filed a case against major oil and gas companies and the American Petroleum Institute (API), a powerful industry trade group which has played a major role in promoting “uncertainty” about climate science.

The lawsuit seeks to recover costs associated with climate impacts like extreme flooding and sea level rise. Like other climate liability lawsuits targeting fossil fuel companies, Hoboken’s suit alleges that the oil and gas companies and their lobbying group not only knew early on about the climate harms resulting from their products, but actively engaged in campaigns of deception to undermine climate science and avoid policy responses.

“Here in Hoboken, we are now paying the price for these deceptive actions,” Hoboken Mayor Ravi S. Bhalla said during a press conference held Wednesday, September 2. “We cannot sit idly by and let Big Oil continue profiting at the expense of Hoboken residents.”

Defendants named in the Hoboken lawsuit include BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Shell, and Phillips 66, plus the largest trade association in the U.S. for oil and gas, API. This lawsuit is the second climate case in recent months targeting API specifically. The Big Oil trade association is also a defendant in a lawsuit filed June 24 by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison.

Hoboken’s lawsuit points to the long history of the oil and gas industry’s knowledge of the potentially damaging impacts of its products on the climate, and the differences between what they came to say about the issue publicly versus privately over time. It cites Frank Ikard, API President in 1965, when he delivered a dire warning about a report on climate change during an oil industry conference: ”[T]here is still time to save the world’s peoples from the catastrophic consequences of pollution, but the time is running out.”

But decades later, API’s approach toward climate change had evolved. The lawsuit quotes a 1998 internal action report in which API says, “Unless ‘climate change’ becomes a non-issue … there may be no moment when we can declare victory for our efforts.”

API did not immeditately respond to requests for comment from DeSmog.

According to Hoboken’s legal complaint, “Defendants, some of the world’s largest fossil fuel companies and their largest trade association, have known for more than a half-century that the fossil fuels they extract, produce, market, and sell on a massive scale are causing accelerating climate change that poses grave threats to society — sea level rise, extreme heat, and increasingly destructive storms, among many others. Instead of addressing those threats, Defendants have spent the last fifty years deceiving the public about their central role in causing climate change in order to grease the wheels of their ever-expanding production and sale of fossil fuels.”

The lawsuit includes legal claims of public and private nuisance, trespass, negligence, and violation of New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act. The city is seeking monetary damages — in other words, demanding that the oil companies help pay for climate-related costs that otherwise are saddled onto taxpayers.

Exxon spokesperson Casey Norton told DeSmog, “This suit does nothing to advance meaningful actions to reduce the risks of climate change. The claims are baseless and without merit. We look forward to defending the company in court.”

“We want to be compensated for the costs of climate damages both past, present and future,” Mayor Bhalla said. Hoboken has already spent hundreds of millions of dollars on resiliency projects, he explained. According to a 2019 study by the Center for Climate Integrity, Hoboken’s estimated costs for sea walls alone by 2040 will add up to $27.9 million, while the cost for sea walls in Hudson County (which includes Hoboken) is estimated at $505 million.

Mayor Bhalla said climate resiliency must emphasize protecting the city’s most vulnerable residents, such as people of color and lower-income families who tend to be disproportionately impacted by fossil fuel pollution and climate disasters like Hurricane Sandy, which devastated the New Jersey coast in 2012. “This is a racial justice issue,” he said.

Hoboken filed its climate lawsuit on September 2 in Hudson County Superior Court, which is a New Jersey state court. Similar climate cases filed by states and municipalities have been embroiled in jurisdictional battles, with fossil fuel companies determined to move the cases to federal courts where they see an easier path to dismissal. None of these climate accountability cases have made it to trial yet, with the exception of a securities fraud case filed by the state of New York against Exxon. A judge dismissed that case last December.

“We fully recognize that a legal decision may not come down for some time,” Mayor Bhalla said during the press conference. He explained that the city is “joining the fight” now for the sake of the younger generations of Hoboken residents.

“We don’t believe it is hyperbole to say that what Hoboken, the nation, and the world are facing is an existential threat,” said Jonathan S. Abady, an attorney with the New York City law firm Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward Maazel LLP, which is providing legal representation for Hoboken at no cost to the city.

“Time is of the essence,” Abady said. “And time is running out.”

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  1. Ignacio

    RE: Exxon spokesperson Casey Norton told DeSmog, “This suit does nothing to advance meaningful actions to reduce the risks of climate change. The claims are baseless and without merit.

    The objective of the suit, and what is claiming, is not to ‘advance meaningful actions’ , so I guess this cannot be the line of defence of the oil companies. So the defence strategy is if they can say that the claims are baseless and what bar will set the judge on what could be considered a thorough demonstration on the role of these companies and associations on public deception and deceitful lobbying.

    I know nothing about law. There is this site that describes what they call the ‘climate deception dossiers’ that include.

    forged letters to Congress, secret funding of a supposedly independent scientist, the creation of fake grassroots organizations, multiple efforts to deliberately manufacture uncertainty about climate science, and more

    I guess before preparing the suit there has been an effort to prepare documentation that demonstrates such ‘coordinated and multifaceted effort’ to deceive on climate change. IMO, like tobacco companies have to indicate the harms associated with smoking, oil stations should provide to the costumers info on the harmful environmental impacts of oil consumption and recommendations on oil saving.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      Ten thousand little piranhas can kill and eat a big shark. Lawsuits like this could have many good effects.
      They force the existence of “a problem” back onto the media screens and pages for a moment or two every now and then. And every such momentary exposure to “the problem” might get another few people interested.

      If such suits could actually be WON, they would reveal what Evil Black-Hat Bad Actors the Coal, Gas and Oil companies really are and always have been. This might raise enough broad-based public hatred against these companies so as to weaken these companies’s chokehold ownership-grip on the political process. It might also inspire the rise of a broad-based hate-based movement of millions of people in climate-decay-vulnerable city after city who will become ready to re-arrange their own lifestyles, and then their whole cities’s infrastructure-styles , to reduce the amount of energy-use met by burning fossil fuels as much as possible, to degrade and attrit the revenue streams reaching the Social Class Enemy fossil fuel industry.

      We need a Thousand Points of Hate.
      We need a Thousand Hate-Based Initiatives.
      Picture a hundred million pairs of Strong Blue Hands wrapped around the neck of Big Koch and Coal . . . squeezing shut its economic windpipe and shutting off the air supply to its Brain Command Center.
      Is it not a beautiful picture?

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        I forgot another inspiring little saying . . .

        With a head full of Plans and a heart full of Hate, we can Make Things Happen.

  2. Rod

    oil stations should provide to the costumers info on the harmful environmental impacts of oil consumption and recommendations on oil saving.

    I often fuel at Citgo which has just installed Video Screens for Advertising at all their fuel stations–’cause not a minute to waste without Marketing
    Death by a thousand cuts is the road Big Oil is choosing and i can see making them run Climate Crises PSAs on those screens as part of APIs penance.

    Decommission the Oil Economy Now–U.S. consumption of petroleum products has fallen to its lowest level in decades because of measures that limit travel and because of the general economic slowdown induced by mitigation efforts for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).–my bold


    while we the people have a downhill running start–

  3. topcat

    the crazy thing is that just like tabacco before them, the only way for these companies to pay the fines is to use the profits they earn from selling oil / cigarettes(probably to poor africans), hence making the whole problem worse. The only thing we can di is, in the words of the late great Gil Scott-heron, shut ’em down, shut ’em down, shut ’em down.

  4. J.W.R.

    All YOU have to do is STOP: driving and riding cars and buses and trucks and trains and planes and boats, cutting grass and blowing leaves and snow, air conditioning and heating, refrigerating and cooking, importing products and food, watching television and using the internet, lighting, using pharma and plastics and glass and metal made from/with petroleum.

    No one is stopping YOU. Prove YOU mean it by doing and not doing.

    The endless shrill sanctimony is appalling and boorish.

    1. Darius

      You promote individual action, which diverts energy from collective action, aka politics, the only effective tool in preventing the destruction of the human race. Individual lifestyle choices can make a person feel good about themselves. They are, of course, useless and irrelevant for creating the massive change that is needed. But thanks for playing. I hope you find the personal fulfillment you seek.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        Individual Action will not be enough by itself to down-fossilize the economy. But millions of individuals individually acting will be able to see eachother and find eachother and organize themselves into a movement with a strike force able to force the collective improvement changes which will force meaningful down-fossilization.

        So individual action does not have to be a time-wasting diversion. It can be a consciousness-building power-building mass-movement-public excercise.

    2. drumlin woodchuckles

      Dear Mr. J. W. R.,

      If it will make you feel any better, I don’t think you are “in the pay” of API or anyone else. I think you have just never outgrown the joy and excitement you felt when you first learned to “discover hypocrisy” and “spot the hypocrite” in your youth. We all discovered that joy sometime in junior high school.

      Ah . . . but the rest of us have grown world-weary with age and have lost our joy in the game of “spot the hypocrite”. Happy the man, in this case you, who can preserve his youthful jejuneness, puerility, juvenility, superficiality,etc. well into adulthood!

      Your comment reminds me of this image. As you study the two figures in the cartoon, see if you can guess which figure best represents you and which figure best represents the rest of us.


      :Unfortunately this link only links to a vast pile of reddit images. Hopefully the first image is the one I intend for you to see.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        Unfortunately, the link is only to a vast pile of Reddit images. The image I have in mind is the first image on the left of the second row down from the very top ( start) of the screen.

  5. orlbucfan

    I recall vividly my family driving to Long Island NY from the DC suburbs for Xmas. This was before the Verrazano Narrows Bridge was built. We took the Staten Island Ferry to cross over. We had to drive through Elizabeth NJ. It was all oil refineries. The stench/stink was horrendous. This was on a ‘good’ day. I hope the oil (blanks) are flayed alive for the damage they cause/have caused. But, alas, that would only be in a perfect world.

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