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Superstorm Sandy NJ

Seaside Heights and other towns on and beyond the Jersey Shore were devastated by Superstorm Sandy in 2012. (Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

New Jersey Sues 5 Oil Giants, Industry Lobby for Climate Fraud

"We will work tirelessly to make sure these companies pay every last dollar for the harm they've caused," said state AG Matthew Platkin. "If you lie to the public to protect your profits, we will hold you accountable."

Brett Wilkins

New Jersey on Tuesday sued five oil and gas companies and a leading fossil fuel lobby group for knowingly lying to the public about the existence of climate change and the role their products play in exacerbating human-caused global heating.

"The defendants have known for decades that use of fossil fuels is a major cause of climate change."

The lawsuit, filed in New Jersey Superior Court in Mercer County, targets ExxonMobil Corporation, Shell Oil Company, Chevron Corporation, BP, ConocoPhillips, and the American Petroleum Institute (API).

The plaintiffs—state Attorney General Matthew Platkin,  the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, and the Department of Environmental Protection—argue that "the defendants have known for decades that use of fossil fuels is a major cause of climate change, but instead of warning the public or the state about the danger, they launched public relations campaigns to sow doubts about the existence, causes, and effects of climate change with the goal of confusing the public, delaying the transition to a lower carbon economy and future, increasing their own profits, and further deepening dependence on their products."

The suit also accuses API "of playing a key role in orchestrating and implementing climate denial campaigns on behalf of and under the supervision of" the five oil giants.

Climate campaigners welcomed the lawsuit, with Richard Wiles, president of the Center for Climate Integrity, saying in a statement that "after lying for decades about their role in fueling the climate crisis, these oil and gas corporations deserve to be held accountable for the damages they have caused to communities across the country."

Oil companies including ExxonMobil, Shell, and Total have known since as far back as the early 1970s that burning fossil fuels emits greenhouse gases that cause global heating.

According to Platkin's office:

The state is seeking to hold the defendants accountable for systematically concealing and denying their knowledge that fossil fuel consumption could have a catastrophic impact on the climate, causing the devastating consequences of fossil fuel overconsumption: the significant sea level rise, flooding, and extreme weather that have battered New Jersey's citizens and businesses, requiring the state and its residents to shoulder the enormous costs of rebuilding, hardening New Jersey's defenses against severe weather, and making the necessary transition away from reliance on fossil fuels to a more sustainable clean energy future.

Platkin, a Democrat, said in a statement that the defendants "went to great lengths to hide the truth and mislead the people of New Jersey, and the world."

"In short," he added, "these companies put their profits ahead of our safety. It's long overdue that the facts be aired in a New Jersey court, and the perpetrators of the disinformation campaign pay for the harms they've caused."

New Jersey Commissioner of Environmental Protection Shawn M. LaTourette said that "New Jersey is ground zero for some of the worst impacts of climate change."

"Our communities and environment are continually recovering from extreme heat, furious storms, and devastating floods," he noted. "These conditions will sadly only worsen in the decades ahead, leaving us scrambling to prepare for a parade of harmful climate changes."

"All this while we rush to ween ourselves off the very products these companies have long known would fuel our pain but deceived New Jerseyans about, because keeping us addicted was better for their bottom line," LaTourette added. "It was wrong to mislead us; wrong to undermine climate science; wrong to put profit over people and the planet that we share. It is time New Jersey demands accountability."

New Jersey now joins dozens of states and cities that have filed similar lawsuits against fossil fuel corporations in recent years, including Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Vermont, Baltimore, Boulder, Oakland, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.

The suit's timing roughly coincides with the 10th anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, which killed 38 people in New Jersey while causing around $30 billion in damage.

"We will work tirelessly to make sure these companies pay every last dollar for the harm they've caused," Platkin vowed. "If you lie to the public to protect your profits, we will hold you accountable."

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