Rhode Island wants some of the world’s biggest oil and gas companies to pay for the effects of climate change.
The state Attorney General announced the major lawsuit Monday naming 21 defendants. They include industry giants ExxonMobil, Hess, Shell, and BP.
The suit alleges the companies are responsible for rising seas, coastal erosion and increasingly destructive storms, and Rhode Island is particularly vulnerable. It also accuses the companies of working to undermine public understanding of potential hazards of burning fossil fuels.
“The defendants have contributed greatly to the increased costs associated with climate change, and as such, should be held legally responsible for those damages,” Attorney General Peter Kilmartin said in a statement.
Chris Killian is an attorney with the nonprofit Conservation Law Foundation, which has filed similar lawsuits.
“It’s entirely appropriate that companies that have profited from the types of products that these fossil fuel companies have produced be held accountable to the laws of Rhode Island,” Killian said.
According to the Attorney General’s office, Rhode Island is the first state to file such a lawsuit. Individual municipalities have filed similar suits in recent years, including San Francisco and New York. Killian compared the litigation to similar efforts once taken against big tobacco companies, and said more court actions could make settlements more likely.
“And that is often the case,” Killian said. “Sometimes these cases need to be filed and need to be litigated to a certain point before you can get a deal. Climate change is of such grave concern, none of these companies are above the law.”
The Rhode Island lawsuit seeks broad compensation for the damage associated with climate change.
To hear how the effects of climate change are already impacting our region, check out our series "Ready or Not."