A tiny Alaskan village located on a barrier island in the Chukchi Sea has filed a lawsuit against some of the largest oil and gas producers and utilities in the country because of damages that it claims have been caused by global warming.
The lawsuit was filed last Tuesday on behalf of the 399 residents of the village of Kivalina's federally recognized tribe, the Inupiat Eskimo, and its municipal government in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California (Native Village of Kivalina v. ExxonMobil Corp. et al, No. C 08-01138 SBA).
The defendants in the lawsuit read like a who's who list of the energy industry. In addition to ExxonMobil, the defendants are Royal Dutch Shell plc, Peabody Energy Corp., AES Corp., American Electric Power Co., DTE Energy Co., Duke Energy Corp., Dynegy Holdings Inc., Edison International, MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co., Mirant Corp., NRG Energy, Pinnacle West Capital Corp., Reliant Energy Inc., Southern Company, Xcel Energy Inc., BP plc, Chevron Corp. and ConocoPhillips. Subsidiaries of Shell, BP and Chevron also are named in the lawsuit.
Kivalina is located on the tip of a six-mile barrier reef located between the Chukchi Sea and the Kivalina and Wulik rivers on the northwest coast of Alaska, about 70 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Ninety-seven percent of the residents are Inupiat. Residents have occupied the area "since time immemorial," the lawsuit stated. "Global warming is destroying Kivalina and the village thus must be relocated soon or be abandoned and cease to exist. Relocating will cost hundreds of millions of dollars and is an urgent matter."
The lawsuit cited reports by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Government Accountability Office, which "concluded that Kivalina must be relocated due to global warming." It said the government has estimated the cost to relocate villagers would be $95-400 million.
According to the 72-page lawsuit, the energy companies have contributed to global warming "through their emissions of large quantities of greenhouse gases...If the entire village is not relocated soon, the village will be destroyed."
Rising temperatures caused by global warming "have affected the thickness, extent and duration of sea ice that forms along Kivalina's coast," the lawsuit stated. "Loss of sea ice, particularly land-fast sea ice, leaves Kivalina's coast more vulnerable to waves, storm surges and erosion. Storms now routinely batter Kivalina and are destroying its property to the point that Kivalina must relocate or face extermination."
The lawsuit also claimed that "there has been a long campaign by power, coal and oil companies to mislead the public about the science of global warming. Defendants ExxonMobil, AEP, BP America Inc., Chevron Corp., ConocoPhillips, Duke Energy, Peabody and Southern Company ("Conspiracy Defendants") participated in this campaign." The companies, it said, "have also formed and use front groups, fake citizen organizations and bogus scientific bodies...The most active company in such efforts is and has been defendant ExxonMobil."
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