Chicago climate march

Environmental activists march during the Global Climate Strike in downtown Chicago, Illinois, on September 15, 2023.

(Photo: Kamil Krzaczynski/AFP via Getty Images)

Chicago Joins 'Historic Wave of Lawsuits' Against Big Oil

The city alleges the industry "funded, conceived, planned, and carried out a sustained and widespread campaign of denial and disinformation about the existence of climate change and their products' contribution to it."

Chicago on Tuesday joined the growing list of U.S. cities and states suing Big Oil for lying to the public about how burning fossil fuels causes and exacerbates the climate emergency.

The administration of Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson, a progressive Democrat, filed a lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court against ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, Shell, ConocoPhillips, Phillips 66, and the industry lobby American Petroleum Institute, which "funded, conceived, planned, and carried out a sustained and widespread campaign of denial and disinformation about the existence of climate change and their products' contribution to it."

"The climate change impacts that Chicago has faced and will continue to face—including more frequent and intense storms, flooding, droughts, extreme heat events, and shoreline erosion—are felt throughout every part of the city and disproportionately in low-income communities," the suit contends.

In a statement, Johnson said that "there is no justice without accountability."

"From the unprecedented poor air quality that we experienced last summer to the basement floodings that our residents on the West Side experienced, the consequences of this crisis are severe, as are the costs of surviving them," he added. "That is why we are seeking to hold these defendants accountable."

Climate campaigners welcomed the lawsuit.

"Big Oil has lied to the American people for decades about the catastrophic climate risks of their products, and now Chicago and communities across the country are rightfully insisting they pay for the damage they've caused," Center for Climate Integrity president Richard Wiles said in a statement.

"With Chicago, the nation's third largest city, joining the fray, there is no doubt that we are witnessing a historic wave of lawsuits that could finally hold Big Oil accountable for the climate crisis they knowingly caused," he added.

Chicago joins eight U.S. states plus the District of Columbia and numerous municipalities across the country that have sued to hold Big Oil accountable for deceiving the public about its role in the climate emergency.

"To date, eight federal appeals courts and dozens of federal district courts have unanimously ruled against the fossil fuel industry's arguments to prevent these lawsuits from moving forward in state courts," noted the Center for Climate Integrity. "In 2023, the U.S. Justice Department added its support for the communities. The U.S. Supreme Court has denied Big Oil petitions to consider the industry's appeals of those lower court rulings three separate times, most recently in January."

Angela Tovar, Chicago's chief sustainability officer, told the Chicago Sun-Times that "the fossil fuel industry should be able to pay for the damage they've caused."

"We have to see accountability for the climate crisis," she added.

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