Big Oil brings another climate case to the Supreme Court

Dec 14 2020, Jennifer Hijazi, E&E News

O&G industry attorneys are giving the Supreme Court a new foothold to derail state and local lawsuits asking fossil fuel firms to pay up for climate impacts.

In a Supreme Court petition docketed earlier this month, Suncor Energy Inc. and Exxon Mobil Corp. asked the justices to reconsider a 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that sent a climate challenge from Boulder County, Colo., back to the state court where it was originally filed.

The filing raises similar questions to a case the Supreme Court has already agreed to hear, BP PLC v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, in which the high court could choose to side with industry lawyers’ arguments that climate liability lawsuits belong in federal court, where they are more likely to fail.

Attorneys for Suncor and the other companies involved in the Colorado case called on the Supreme Court to rule in favor of the oil firms in the Baltimore challenge.

“The Court should then grant the petition in this case and dispose of it accordingly in light of its decision in BP,” lawyers for Suncor and the other companies wrote in their petition docketed Dec. 4.

At issue is whether federal appeals court judges can revisit federal district court remand orders sending climate cases back to state venues. Typically, remand orders can only be appealed under the narrow condition that they involve federal officers.

The question has been a sticking point for oil and gas companies working to fend off a growing pile of climate liability lawsuits, which federal appeals courts have largely determined belong before state judges.

Cities, counties and states that launch climate complaints may have an advantage in state courts, where their cases are less likely to be preempted by federal laws and tossed out entirely.

Industry challengers in BP v. Baltimore have also attempted to broaden their Supreme Court challenge by asking the justices to find that all lawsuits dealing with interstate greenhouse gas emissions belong in federal court.

A Supreme Court ruling that is favorable to the fossil fuel industry could have the effect of severely delaying or altogether derailing a slate of climate lawsuits that have already made their way back to state benches. Arguments in BP v. Baltimore are set for Jan. 19