The Supreme Court on Tuesday denied an emergency request from 26 multinational oil and natural gas producers to halt a lawsuit brought by the city of Baltimore that seeks to hold operators to account for the “hazards” of fossil fuels.
The battle centers around whether the lawsuit belongs in state court, where it now resides, or in federal court.
The Supreme Court’s denial does not address the merits of the Baltimore lawsuit, which claims the producers’ “production, promotion and marketing of fossil fuel products, simultaneous concealment of the known hazards of those products, and their championing of antiscience campaigns” has harmed the city, which “is particularly vulnerable to sea level rise and flooding.”
U.S. producers sued by Baltimore include BP plc, Chevron Corp., ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil Corp., Hess Corp., Marathon Oil Co. and Royal Dutch Shell plc.
The producers wanted the Maryland proceedings halted in an attempt to move the lawsuit to federal court in BP plc v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, No. 191368. The U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland had rejected the request, as did the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. The high court denied the request without comment.
In the request, the producers in court papers said “it is difficult to imagine claims that more clearly implicate substantial questions of federal law and require uniform disposition than the claims at issue here, which seek to transform the nation’s energy, environmental, national security, and foreign policies by punishing energy companies for lawfully supplying necessary oil and gas resources.”
In response, Baltimore said the costs did not amount to the sort of irreparable injury to warrant halting the case while the question of where the case should be heard was resolved.
Also on Tuesday, two requests by producers to stay similar state lawsuits were denied. Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer denied a request to stay a lawsuit brought by Rhode Island, BP plc v. Rhode Island, No. 19A391. In addition, Justice Sonia Sotomayor denied a lawsuit brought by three local governments in Colorado, Suncor Energy v. Boulder County, No. 19A428.
Meanwhile, Justice Barry Ostrager of the New York State Unified Court System heard opening arguments Tuesday in a landmark lawsuit claiming ExxonMobil committed securities fraud and had misled investors regarding the risk that climate change regulations posed to its operations.
ExxonMobil has been fighting a multi-state lawsuit initially brought in 2015 and led by New York that is seeking decades of internal documents and communications related to climate change. A Harvard University peer-reviewed analysis issued last year concluded that ExxonMobil had misled the public regarding climate change communications over a 40-year period.
What makes the case so potentially powerful is New York's Martin Act, passed in 1921, which gives the state’s attorney general extraordinary powers and discretion to investigate financial fraud, exceeding those given any regulator in any other U.S. state.