Climate Lawsuits vs. Climate Solutions
Posted September 22, 2017
Here are some of my thoughts after this week’s news that San Francisco and Oakland have filed lawsuits against five oil and natural companies, arguing that the companies should pay for sea walls to protect the cities in case ocean levels rise due to changing climate:
First, the courts aren’t the place to address climate change policy. This is a complex, global issue that requires global engagement in the public square, not in a courtroom. In this country, elected officials debate public policy issues and then take appropriate action. Lawsuits of the type filed this week tend to serve special interests, polarize people and hinder real solutions.
The second point is action. Contrary to the lawsuit’s assertions, our industry is a leader on climate action, working to reduce emissions as part of a broader solution to those challenges. Since 2000 our industry has invested nearly $90 billion in emissions-reducing technologies – almost as much as the rest of U.S.-based private industries combined and more than twice the amount invested by each of the next three industry sectors:
The $90 billion includes:
- Developing substitute and less carbon-intensive fuels.
- Supporting non-hydrocarbon technologies such as wind, solar, biofuels, geothermal energy and landfill digester gas.
- Pursuing advanced end-use technologies such as efficiency improvements, carbon capture and storage and advanced technology vehicles.
Our industry has put its money where its mouth is when it comes to cleaner operations, facilities and products, with investments totaling more than $321 billion since 1990. Indeed, Bloomberg reports that five oil companies – ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron, BP and Total SA – collectively reduced their emissions by an average of 13 percent between 2010 and 2015, according to a report. Bloomberg’s chart:
The fact is air quality has improved, aided by industry’s demonstrated commitments. EPA reported earlier this year that the combined emissions of six critical air pollutants dropped 73 percent between 1970 and 2016.
As importantly, industry is contributing to real climate solutions by developing abundant domestic supplies of natural gas. Increased use of natural gas is the leading reason U.S. carbon emissions from electricity generation are near 30-year lows:
This significant progress has occurred without sacrificing economic growth while creating additional disposable income for consumers – $1,337 for the average U.S. household – because of lower utility bills and other energy-related savings across the economy.
Finally, a couple more things about the California lawsuits. It’s valid to seek a better sense of where these cases are coming from. Thanks to the web we learn that the larger legal team for both lawsuits is stocked with individuals whose specialty is chasing down big-dollar judgments against a number of this country’s important industries, including ours. Matthew Pawa is among them – read about Pawa’s past efforts here and here.
As we say, environmental lawsuits like these from California, which may make attorneys richer, aren’t particularly helpful in the effort to arrive at consensus climate policy and real-world solutions. Rather, they have the potential to distract from the serious policy debate on climate change, as well as the very real progress the U.S. has made in reducing carbon emissions. That’s not the right or effective path to making climate progress.
About The Author
Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Previously, Mark was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor at an assortment of newspapers. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela have two grown children and six grandchildren.
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