Mayors of Calif. cities will seek to protect their climate change cases with resolution at Hawaii conference

By Daniel Fisher | Jun 14, 2019

Watkins and Butt  

HONOLULU (Legal Newsline) – Climate litigation isn’t on the official agenda when the U.S. Conference of Mayors meets in Honolulu at the end of the month, but it will probably loom in the background.

More than 1,000 cities and counties responded to pitches from private lawyers to join lawsuits against the opioid industry, most of them now pending before a federal judge in Ohio. Some of the same lawyers are pitching cities on lawsuits against energy companies to recover costs associated with global warming.

California mayors Martine Watkins of Santa Cruz and Tom Butt of Richmond plan to introduce a resolution that “support cities’ rights and efforts to mitigate climate change damages and protect taxpayers from related costs,” including lawsuits.

“The City of Santa Cruz will continue our interventions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, adapt to our changing climate, improve the health of our residents, and support our most vulnerable,” Watkins wrote in an op-ed earlier this month. “We oppose any attempt to let fossil fuel companies off the hook for intentionally destroying our planet for their profits.”

The main climate-related event on the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting June 28-July 1 is the Mayors Climate Protection Awards Luncheon, recognizing mayors for innovative projects that increase energy efficiency, use of renewables or reduce carbon emissions. In an indication of how large corporations are trying to join the carbon-reduction movement, the luncheon is sponsored by Walmart and there are speakers at the conference from Exelon’s ComEd utility in Illinois and AECOM, a large infrastructure engineering firm.

Santa Cruz is one of several cities and counties including Baltimore, New York City, Oakland and King County, Washington, that have sued oil companies for allegedly creating a public nuisance by promoting the sale of hydrocarbons and failing to warn customers about the risks of global warming. Federal courts in New York and San Francisco dismissed three high-profile cases but others are still pending.

In a June 10 ruling, a federal judge in Baltimore ordered that city’s case remanded to state court. In his order, U.S. District Judge Lipton Hollander said a federal judge in San Francisco misconstrued the law when he refused to remand lawsuits by San Francisco and Oakland to state court. Because Baltimore raised no claims based entirely upon federal law, Judge Hollander ruled, its case should return to state court. He gave BP and the other defendants 30 days to appeal his decision.

Baltimore is represented by Sher Edling, a law firm that is seeking to carve out a niche representing government clients in climate litigation and also represents San Francisco and Rhode Island. The Seattle law firm of Hagens Berman, prominent in the 1997 tobacco settlement, represents New York City, San Francisco and Oakland in their climate lawsuits.

Freedom-of-information requests last year revealed that Sher Edling pitched the City of Miami on climate litigation, although no suit has been filed. The Manufacturers’ Accountability Project hailed Fort Lauderdale City Attorney Alain Boileu’s announcement in May he wouldn’t join climate litigation.

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