Boulder is the Latest City to Bring Exxon to Court

Boulder Brings Exxon to Court

Colorado, like many Western states, is facing another year of record-breaking wildfires. Colorado’s Boulder County estimates that over the next 30 years, it will cost $100 million to update its water transport and drainage systems to reduce wildfire risk.

But the county doesn't want to put its residents on the hook financially. Instead, the regional government wants those who fueled the climate crisis to foot the bill. The Boulder County government is suing oil companies ExxonMobil and Suncor to pay their fair share of what it will cost a community to deal with the problem these companies created.

Why This Matters

Like other lawsuits working to hold oil companies accountable, the Colorado lawsuit points to the fossil fuel industry hiding their own scientists' warnings at the expense of humanity.

"It is far more difficult to change it now than it would have been if the companies had been honest about what they knew 30 or 50 years ago," Marco Simons, the general counsel for Earth Rights International (the NGO handling the lawsuit for the county), told the Guardian.

Lawsuits holding oil companies liable for climate change haven't been terribly successful in the US -- New York's lawsuit against five oil companies was tossed out by a federal judge and that decision was then upheld by the US Circuit Court of Appeals. However, this past June, the Supreme Court allowed lawsuits brought by San Francisco and Oakland against oil companies to proceed, giving hope to climate activists that legal precedent might soon be set.

Other Climate Lawsuits Advance in the Courts

In 2015 and 2016, the attorneys general of New York and Massachusetts launched investigations of Exxon, kicking off years of legal back and forth between the states and the oil giant. This summer, a Massachusetts state judge said Exxon must face the state in its lawsuit, which accuses the company of misleading people about its role in the climate crisis.

Exxon alone faces a slew of lawsuits from five states and more than 12 cities and towns over their contribution to and deception about climate change. The lawsuits take different approaches to the case: New York City takes aim at Exxon's misinformation campaign, while Connecticut is focused on the company creating uncertainty about climate science.

And that's just looking at Exxon -- other oil companies also face lawsuits for their misleading public communications.

"The disinformation that these companies put out in the '80s and '90s was most significant in shaping our energy path," Sean Hecht, co-executive director of the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at UCLA School of Law, told E&E News. hat was when there was an opportunity for us to take a different path."

Boulder County BOCC: Climate Accountability Action from Colorado Communities, April 17, 2018.