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On 'Front Lines of Climate Change,' Baltimore Lawsuit Aims to Hold 26 Fossil Fuel Companies Accountable

"These oil and gas companies knew for decades that their products would harm communities like ours."

Ellicott City, Maryland

Ellicott City, Maryland—located less than 15 miles west of Baltimore—was devastating in late May when the second "1,000 year flood" in two years caused dangerous flash flooding throughout the city. (Photo: @BKMovie2018/Twitter)

Baltimore, Maryland on Friday became the latest city to file suit against major oil and gas companies, aiming to hold them accountable for the "potentially catastrophic" damage that the global climate crisis—which is largely the result of burning fossil fuels—is increasingly inflicting on coastal communities the world over.

"We're now on the front lines of climate change because melting ice caps, more frequent heat waves, extreme storms, and other climate consequences caused by fossil fuel companies are threatening our city and imposing real costs on our taxpayers."
—Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh

"These oil and gas companies knew for decades that their products would harm communities like ours," declared Baltimore City Solicitor Andre Davis. "They could have warned us. They could have taken steps to minimize or avoid the damage."

"In fact, they had a responsibility to do both, but they didn't, and that's why we are taking them to court," Davis added. "Baltimore's residents, workers, and businesses shouldn't have to pay for the damage knowingly caused by these companies."

Filed on Friday in the state's Circuit Court for Baltimore City, the lawsuit (pdf) names 26 companies—including BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and ExxonMobil, and Royal Dutch Shell—some of which have been common targets in other climate liability suits filed across the country.

The city's suit outlines how these companies have misled the public about the risks of their products and reaped enormous profits, all while pouring greenhouse gases into the Earth's atmosphere that have resulted in "global warming, rising atmospheric and ocean temperatures, ocean acidification, melting polar ice caps and glaciers, more extreme and volatile weather, and sea level rise."

Baltimore is the East Coast's fifth-largest city, and features some 60 miles of waterfront. Lisa Anne Hamilton of the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) warned that the climate crisis "poses increasingly urgent and calamitous risks to Baltimore residents," noting that "in just the past two years, the Baltimore area was hit by two catastrophic 'once in a 1,000 year' storms."

"We're now on the front lines of climate change because melting ice caps, more frequent heat waves, extreme storms, and other climate consequences caused by fossil fuel companies are threatening our city and imposing real costs on our taxpayers," asserted Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, who announced the lawsuit on Friday morning.

"Taxpayers in Baltimore can no longer afford to foot the bill for damages knowingly caused by climate polluters, nor should they have to," responded Richard Wiles, executive director of the Center for Climate Integrity. "The people of Baltimore deserve their day in court."

Baltimore's filing comes just a day after a federal judge dismissed New York City's suit against five top fossil fuels firms, and about a month after another federal judge tossed out a pair of suits brought by two cities in California. Despite those setbacks, several other cases are working their way through the courts, including a suit filed by Rhode Island, the first state to pursue this type of legal action against major oil and gas companies.

"The catastrophic impacts of climate change predicted by companies like Exxon decades ago have arrived," concluded Wiles. "It's only fitting then that the wave of lawsuits the industry have long feared and planned for have as well."

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