SANTA CRUZ, Calif. - The City of Santa Cruz and Santa Cruz County filed separate lawsuits in California Superior Court that officials say for the first time go beyond prior complaints for climate change-related damages.
They will be suing 29 entities.
Today's filings seek to hold accountable 29 oil, gas and coal companies not just for damages associated with sea level rise, but also for "changes to the hydrologic cycle caused by greenhouse gas pollution from the companies’ products, including more frequent and severe wildfires, drought, and extreme precipitation events. Officials say recent reports from the American Meteorological Society and others confirm that these kinds of serious climate-related changes result from warming of the planet caused by increases in greenhouse gases."
“With miles of coastlines and steep, forested mountains, Santa Cruz County is particularly vulnerable to impacts from climate change,” said County Supervisor Ryan Coonerty. “It's time for Big Oil, who chose profit over people and the environment, to be held responsible. It's time for oil companies to pay for the damage they've caused, rather than ask local residents to pick up all the costs associated with protecting us from sea level rise, increasing fires, and severe weather.”
According to the complaints:
Defendants have known for nearly 50 years that greenhouse gas pollution from their fossil fuel products has a significant impact on the Earth’s climate and sea levels. Instead of working to reduce the use and combustion of fossil fuel products, lower the rate of greenhouse gas emissions, minimize the damage associated with continued high use and combustion of such products, and ease the transition to a lower carbon economy, Defendants concealed the dangers, sought to undermine public support for greenhouse gas regulation, and engaged in massive campaigns to promote the ever-increasing use of their products at ever greater volumes. The complaints claim defendants are directly responsible for 215.9 gigatons of CO2 emissions between 1965 and 2015, representing 17.5% of total emissions of that potent greenhouse gas during that period.
Officials claim numerous peer-reviewed scientific studies show clearly that pollution from oil, gas, and coal is causing the oceans and atmosphere to warm, sea levels to rise, and wildfires, drought and extreme precipitation events to skyrocket. They say fossil fuel companies have known for decades that the consequences of business-as-usual combustion of their products could be catastrophic and that only a narrow window of time existed to take action before the damage might be irreversible.
“These companies not only understood the consequences of fossil fuel use on global climate change, but their own scientists did much of the early, groundbreaking research, and issued detailed warnings decades ago,” said Mayor David Terrazas. “The fact that they later worked hard to discredit the science is extremely troubling, and may well have delayed actions that could have prevented serious, global impacts. This lawsuit raises serious issues and deserves a full public discussion.”
In Santa Cruz County, expected sea level rise by 2030 of four inches would put 850 buildings and assets valued at $742 million at risk. Beyond sea level rise, the County has incurred hundreds of millions of dollars in expenses for planning, permitting, and repair due to severe winter storms in recent years that were made worse by climate change caused by greenhouse gas pollution from fossil fuels. Mounting instances of wildfire are also cause for great concern for the County, which must prepare for increasing costs of fire suppression as well as secondary public health costs associated with wildfire.
The City of Santa Cruz says they also have serious vulnerabilities to climate change and faces significant adaptation costs. Under the same 2030 scenario of four inches of sea level rise, more than 70 buildings, over a half mile of roadway, and more than two miles of water, wastewater and storm drain pipe infrastructure valued at $152 million is at risk. The City has spent millions of dollars in response to flooding and storm damage exacerbated by rising seas and extreme rain events. Coastal erosion is already a serious issue, and portions of main roadways may need to be fortified or completely replaced. Moreover, Santa Cruz deals with significant water supply system shortages and substantial wildfire risk, both of which will increase if, as is projected, heat waves, droughts, and changes to the hydrological cycle become more extreme or frequent.
The plaintiffs filing this complaint are represented by their respective county and city attorneys, and assisted by outside counsel from Sher Edling LLP.
Not everyone agrees with the lawsuit being filed, while some think it is a step in the right direction, a majority of people commenting on our Facebook post think the lawsuit is a waste of time and money.
KION has reached out to several of the companies in the lawsuit, they have not responded yet.
To see the full lawsuit filed by Santa Cruz County, click here.
To see the full lawsuit filed by the City of Santa Cruz, click here.