A major years-long lawsuit alleging that Big Oil companies have waged a disinformation campaign about the impacts of climate change was voluntarily dismissed by plaintiffs in a victory for the U.S. energy industry.
The California-based Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA), the largest trade association of commercial fishermen on the West Coast, requested the dismissal in a filing with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The request came after Judge Vince Chhabria ruled on Nov. 1 that the case could be heard in federal court despite PCFFA’s argument for it to be tried in state court.
“Climate change is a global challenge that requires a coordinated international policy response, not a jumble of baseless local lawsuits,” said Bill Turenne, a spokesperson for U.S. oil company Chevron, one of several companies named as defendants in the case. “As the Second Circuit Court of Appeals put it when affirming dismissal of a similar case, ‘such a sprawling case is simply beyond the limits of state law.’”
PCFFA’s lawsuit dates back to November 2018 and was among the first “climate deception” cases filed nationwide. The lawsuit — which names Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP America, Shell and ConocoPhillips, among several other oil companies as defendants — sought to hold the industry accountable for its alleged “decades-long campaigns of deception about the science of climate change and the role their products play in causing it.”
PCCFA had argued that it was harmed by fossil fuel-induced global warming because of how the “world’s oceans are changing,” impacting both wildlife and businesses reliant on the maritime economy. The group particularly pointed to multiple prolonged regulatory closures of the Dungeness crab fisheries, the most lucrative fisheries on the West Coast.
“The world’s oceans are changing, and commercial fishermen and -women, their businesses, their communities, and their families are paying the price,” the 2018 complaint stated. “Climate change is impacting the oceans by increasing average sea temperatures, increasing the frequency and intensity of marine heatwaves, destabilizing and disturbing marine wildlife populations, affecting ocean circulation, and increasing the frequency and severity of harmful algal blooms.”
“Defendants, major corporate members of the fossil fuel industry, have known for nearly a half century that unrestricted production and use of their fossil fuel products create greenhouse gas pollution that warms the planet, changes our climate, and disrupts the oceans,” it added.
The fishermen association was represented in court by California law firm Sher Edling which was founded in 2016 to specifically take on such novel cases. And since then, the firm has pursued similar litigation on behalf of Delaware, Minnesota, Rhode Island, New Jersey, New York City, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Baltimore, Honolulu and several local governments across the country.
The latest such “climate deception” lawsuit was filed by California in September. Though it is unclear whether Sher Edling is involved in the case, California’s arguments largely mirror those made by the firm in its litigation.
Sher Edling’s other cases, in addition to California’s case, may face a similar fate as the PCFFA case as they continue to work their way through court. One other case — filed by King County, Oregon — was dismissed in 2021.
Sher Edling didn’t respond to a request for comment.
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