For Immediate Release

Organization Profile: 

Erin Jensen

Landmark Global Warming Lawsuit Settled

Environmental groups and ‘cool cities’ force U.S. financing agencies to take action on climate as precedent-setting seven-year-old suit ends

WASHINGTON - A federal lawsuit that sought to force two U.S. agencies to address the
global warming implications of their overseas financing activities was
settled today after more than six years; the suit established important
legal precedents related to global warming.

Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and the city of Boulder, Colorado, filed the suit (Friends of the Earth, Inc., et al. v. Spinelli, et al.)
in August 2002 and were later joined by the California cities of
Arcata, Santa Monica and Oakland. The plaintiffs alleged that
Export-Import Bank of the United States and the Overseas Private
Investment Corporation illegally provided more than $32 billion in
financing and insurance to fossil fuel projects over 10 years without
assessing whether the projects contributed to global warming or
impacted the U.S. environment, as they were required to do under the
National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Fossil fuel projects financed
by the two agencies from 1990 to 2003 produced cumulative emissions
that were equivalent to nearly eight percent of the world's annual
carbon dioxide emissions, or nearly one third of annual U.S. emissions
in 2003.

In August 2005, a federal judge found that the U.S. cities suffering
economic and other damages from climate change had standing to sue
under NEPA, opening up the courthouse doors for the first time to those
injured by climate change. Testimony from the case, which successfully
asserted that climate change is real and caused by human activities,
later informed the Mass. v EPA
decision, in which the Supreme Court held that carbon dioxide and other
greenhouse gases are pollutants that can be regulated under the Clean
Air Act.

Under the settlement agreed to today, the Export-Import Bank will begin
taking carbon dioxide emissions into account in evaluating fossil fuel
projects and create an organization-wide carbon policy. The Overseas
Private Investment Corporation will establish a goal of reducing
greenhouse gas emissions associated with projects by 20 percent over
the next ten years. Both agencies will commit to increasing financing
for renewable energy.

The settlement represents an important victory in the continuing
campaign to hold both agencies accountable for their contributions to
climate change. The settlement agreement was filed this morning in the
U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The
plaintiffs in the suit were represented by the law firm of Shems
Dunkiel Kassel & Saunders PLLC (Burlington, Vermont) and Natural
Heritage Institute (San Francisco, California).

Reactions from the plaintiffs:

"This settlement is a substantial victory for our climate. It
will force federal agencies to move away from fossil fuel projects and
account for the climate impacts of their lending. As President Obama
said in his inaugural address, 'We can no longer consume the world's
resources without regard to effect.' The settlement agreed to today is
a first step toward making Obama's vision a reality for these
- Michelle Chan, Senior Policy Analyst, Friends of the Earth

"When we launched this lawsuit in 2003, we were deep in the Bush global
warming dark ages. We were able to prove that climate change harms
American cities and citizens and we forced these agencies to change
their behavior. Now that we have entered the brighter Obama age,
Greenpeace hopes that sweeping reform of global warming policy will
reach every corner of the government."
- Kert Davies, Research Director, Greenpeace

"This case was one of the very first climate change lawsuits and
established the framework for other climate change cases. The claims
here are no longer considered novel. The settlement reached today will
help ensure that the federal government takes a close look at its
contributions to climate change and that the courts are available if
the government fails in this critical obligation."
- Ron Shems, lead council for the plaintiffs

"For far too long, American tax dollars have funded highly
irresponsible and damaging fossil fuel projects in countries where
environmental laws simply don't exist. These projects have not only
hurt people in those countries-they have also contributed significantly
to global climate change, and in doing so, pose a direct threat to the
American people, the U.S. economy and the residents of Oakland. This
settlement represents a major step in the campaign to bring real
transparency and responsible environmental standards to energy projects
subsidized by our tax dollars. On behalf of the residents of Oakland,
California, I want to thank Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the
other plaintiffs for their work on this important case."
- Oakland City Attorney John Russo

"The city of Boulder is pleased with the outcome of this lawsuit. As
the first city to enact a carbon tax to address climate change, the
Boulder community is committed to the principles of environmental
sustainability and this result will further that impact. The coalition
forged in the lawsuit demonstrates that together, committed
organizations can make a positive difference toward protecting our
- Boulder City Manager Jane S. Brautigam

"The Arcata community is committed to leaving future generations a
safer, cleaner planet. This landmark victory reflects how local
leadership can take small steps to chart a more sustainable path. We
are proud to have been part of this forward thinking coalition and will
work to raise awareness about the need for immediate and long term
actions to mitigate our global footprint."
- Arcata Mayor Mark Wheetley


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"Santa Monica has a strong commitment to protecting our environment.
Our participation in this case and the important settlement that was
achieved results from our continuing advocacy of sound environmental
- Santa Monica Mayor Ken Genser


Friends of the Earth: Michelle Chan, Senior Policy Analyst, Friends of the Earth, 202-427-3000 (in California)

Greenpeace: Kert Davies, Research Director, Greenpeace, 202-319-2455

Plaintiffs' Council: Ron Shems, Shems Dunkiel Kassel & Saunders PLLC, 802-860-1003 ext 103

City of Oakland: Alex Katz, Oakland City Attorney's Office, 510-238-3148

City of Arcata: Mark Wheetley, Mayor, at (707) 845-7664, or Mark Andre, Director Environmental Services, at (707) 822-8184.

City of Boulder: City Manager's Office, 303-441-4020 or the City Attorney's Office, 303-441-3020.

City of Santa Monica: Adam Radinsky, Head, Consumer Protection Unit, Santa Monica City Attorney's Office, 310-458-8327

Background information about the case is available at



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Friends of the Earth is the U.S. voice of the world's largest grassroots environmental network, with member groups in 77 countries. Since 1969, Friends of the Earth has fought to create a more healthy, just world.

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