Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel speaks at a campaign rally on October 16, 2022 in East Lansing.

(Photo: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

Climate Movement Cheers Michigan AG's Plans to Sue Big Oil

"Pursuing this litigation will allow us to recoup our costs and hold those responsible for jeopardizing Michigan's economic future and way of life accountable," said the state attorney general

Advocates of holding fossil fuel giants accountable for their significant contributions to the climate emergency welcomed Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel's Thursday announcement that she intends to sue the polluting industry.

"Big Oil knew decades ago that their products would cause catastrophic climate change, but instead of doing the right thing they lied about it," declared Richard Wiles, president of the Center for Climate Integrity. "The people of Michigan deserve their day in court to make these companies pay for the massive harm they knowingly caused."

Dozens of municipalities and attorneys general for the District of Columbia and eight states—California, Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Vermont—have already filed climate liability suits against Big Oil in recent years.

"Our 'Pure Michigan' identity is under threat from the effects of climate change," said Nessel, whose state was praised last year for passing clean energy legislation. "Warmer temperatures are shrinking ski seasons in the UP and disrupting the wonderful blooms of Holland's Tulip Time Festival. Severe weather events are on the rise."

"These impacts threaten not only our way of life but also our economy and pose long-term risks to Michigan's thriving agribusiness," she continued. "The fossil fuel industry, despite knowing about these consequences, prioritized profits over people and the environment. Pursuing this litigation will allow us to recoup our costs and hold those responsible for jeopardizing Michigan's economic future and way of life accountable."

The Democratic attorney general's office explained that she is "seeking proposals from attorneys and law firms to serve as special assistant attorneys general to pursue litigation related to the climate change impacts caused by the fossil fuel industry on behalf of the state of Michigan."

The Detroit Newsnoted that "Nessel took a similar tact in suing drugmakers for the opioid crisis, farming out much of the work to outside law firms in Michigan, Texas, and Florida."

According to the newspaper:

Nessel's office is working with other state departments to assess the costs associated with climate change, such as the cost of expanding storm water systems to handle flooding caused by stronger storms, responding to natural disasters, or supporting northern Michigan tourism economies dealing with dwindling ice and snow.

"This is going to be a massive discovery effort to find out exactly what our Michigan damages are now already and what can we expect to see in the future as a result of climate change," she said.

"I don't know that there's a bigger issue facing the state of Michigan than climate change," Nessel told the outlet. "We are talking about billions and billions of dollars in damages and we're already starting to see that on a day-to-day basis. We know this is only going to get worse."

The youth-led Sunrise Movement applauded Nessel's plans and asserted that U.S. President Joe Biden—who is seeking reelection in November—and the Department of Justice "must follow suit."

The group's call echoed similar demands that emerged last week in response to the U.S. Senate Budget Committee's hearing about a three-year investigation into "Big Oil's campaign of deception and distraction."

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