Baltimore Takes On Fossil Fuel Companies to Protect Taxpayers from the Costs and Consequences of Climate Change

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Bernard C. "Jack" Young
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James E. Bentley II
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BALTIMORE, MD.  —  The East Coast’s 5th largest city today joined a growing number of communities that are trying to hold fossil fuel companies accountable for knowingly contributing to what one of the industry’s own experts described as the “potentially catastrophic” consequences of climate change. The lawsuit was filed in state Circuit Court in Baltimore City.

The City, with 60 miles of waterfront and one of the most important ports on the East Coast, faces growing costs to protect its residents, businesses and infrastructure from rising seas and other climate change-related damages.

“These oil and gas companies knew for decades that their products would harm communities like ours, and we’re going to hold them accountable,” Baltimore City Solicitor Andre M. Davis said. “Baltimore’s residents, workers, and businesses shouldn’t have to pay for the damage knowingly caused by these companies.”

Solicitor Davis, who took the reins of the city’s law office in September 2017, spent more than three decades as a judge in Baltimore’s Circuit Court, the U.S. District Court, and on the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. He also served as a federal prosecutor and as a housing manager for the city.

Baltimore’s lawsuit is the 13th to be filed taking on some of the largest and most powerful corporations in the world. The complaint, filed today on behalf of the City of Baltimore, seeks to hold accountable 26 oil and gas companies for damages associated with sea level rise and changes to the hydrologic cycle that include more frequent and severe heat waves, drought, and extreme precipitation events, all of which are caused by the companies’ products.

“Baltimore is a real American melting pot - an economically and culturally diverse coastal city with a proud heritage and promising future,” noted Mayor Catherine E. Pugh. “But 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. I fully support the Solicitor’s effort to protect Baltimore, our economy, and our people by holding these companies accountable,” Mayor Pugh added.

According to the complaint:

Baltimore is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of sea level rise because of its substantial and densely developed coastline and substantial low-lying areas. The port and waterfront are extremely important assets to the City, providing an abundance of jobs as well as some of the City’s strongest property tax base. Baltimore’s Inner Harbor is a prominent tourist destination attracting more than 20 million visitors each year. Sea level rise will present short- and long-term challenges to the Inner Harbor, along with other waterfront communities. 

Just two years ago, the Baltimore region was hit with a 1,000-year storm that brought torrential rains and flash floods. Two months ago, the area was hit with another 1,000-year storm. Recent reports from the American Meteorological Society and others confirm that those kinds of serious climate-related changes result from warming of the planet caused by increases in greenhouse gases from fossil fuels.

Moreover, the latest science shows a clear connection between the oil and gas produced by fossil fuel companies and rising temperatures and sea levels, along with more frequent and severe heat waves, droughts, and extreme precipitation events.
“For 50 years, these companies have known their products would cause rising seas and the other climate change-related problems facing Baltimore today,” said Solicitor 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.”

According to the complaint:

Defendants have known for nearly 50 years that greenhouse gas pollution from their fossil fuel products has a significant impact on the Earth’s climate and sea levels. Defendants’ awareness of the negative implications of their actions corresponds almost exactly with the Great Acceleration, and with skyrocketing greenhouse gas emissions. With that knowledge, Defendants took steps to protect their own assets from these threats through immense internal investment in research, infrastructure improvements, and plans to exploit new opportunities in a warming world.

Instead of working to reduce the use and combustion of fossil fuel products, lower the rate of greenhouse gas emissions, minimize the damage associated with continued high use and combustion of such products, and ease the transition to a lower carbon economy, Defendants concealed the dangers, sought to undermine public support for greenhouse gas regulation, and engaged in massive campaigns to promote the ever-increasing use of their products at ever greater volumes.
“For the past three decades, the fossil fuel industry has spent billions of dollars to deceive, delay, distract, and attack those who try to hold them accountable for their role in causing climate change,” said Mayor Pugh. “We expect more of the same from them here, but we will not be deterred from our responsibility to protect Baltimore and those of us who call it home.” 

The City of Baltimore is represented by its Solicitor and assisted by outside counsel from Sher Edling LLP. 


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