New York City's Landmark Action To Sue Big Oil Just Got Thrown Out Of Court

Sad times. Songquan Deng/Shutterstock

Back in January, New York City authorities announced that they would be taking unprecedented legal action against five major oil organizations: ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, and ConocoPhillips. They argued, quite fairly, they are playing a key role in driving anthropogenic climate change, and that they’ve been aware of it for decades.

Consequently, they should pay for the defensive anti-flood measures the city has had to put into place in order to mitigate against climate change-related damages, through both sea level rise and storm surges linked to increasingly potent hurricanes. Sadly, it wasn’t to be.

As has happened with similar legal cases in California's San Francisco and Oakland, the legal action was thrown out by the courts yesterday, for much the same reasons. NYC have said they plan to appeal the decision, while many of the defendants have praised the outcome of the saga.

As spotted by Buzzfeed’s Zahra Hirji, United States District Judge John Keenan noted in his remarks that human-driven climate change was a fact of life, and none of the defendants in the case are contesting that. However, he concluded that “the serious problems caused thereby are not for the judiciary to ameliorate.

“Global warming and solutions thereto must be addressed by the two other branches of government,” the Executive and the Legislative, meaning the White House and Congress.


It’s easy to see why such legal action was taken in the first place. Putting any legal debates aside as to the attribution of mitigation costs for the moment, you only have to look at the brazenly pro-fossil fuel federal government and the heavily lobbied Republicans (and, in some cases, Democrats) in Congress, and despair.

If you’ve any doubt as to the power that lobbying has, then a new study makes for some mandatory reading material. It found that the fossil fuel, utilities, and transportation sectors – famously quiet or actively antagonistic against climate change mitigation efforts – spent at least $2 billion in Congressional lobbying between 2000 and 2016.

This latest blow to efforts to circumvent such activities is proving to be deeply disappointing to campaigners who were hoping to enshrine some type of climate change mitigation action in law. “The industry is still on the hook,” May Boeve, the executive director of, said in a statement.

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