Judge Alsup just a few moments ago issued his Opinion and Order shutting down this ridiculous litigation against B.P., Chevron, and others.
He made it easy on himself by asserting several times that it is established, and “both sides” agree, that Global Warming is real, serious, and anthropogenic.
But that, he said, is irrelevant because the California government entities’ Nuisance theory is legally just plain crazy.
See the ruling:
Here’s some excerpts:
The issue is not over science. All parties agree that fossil fuels have led to global warming and ocean rise and will continue to do so, and that eventually the navigable waters of the United States will intrude upon Oakland and San Francisco. The issue is a legal one — whether these producers of fossil fuels should pay for anticipated harm that will eventually flow from a rise in sea level.
The sole claim for relief is for “public nuisance,” a claim governed by federal common law. The specific nuisance is global-warming induced sea level rise. Plaintiffs’ theory, to repeat, is that defendants’ sale of fossil fuels leads to their eventual combustion, which leads to more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which leads to more global warming and consequent ocean rise.
The scope of plaintiffs’ theory is breathtaking. It would reach the sale of fossil fuels anywhere in the world, including all past and otherwise lawful sales, where the seller knew that the combustion of fossil fuels contributed to the phenomenon of global warming. While these actions are brought against the first, second, fourth, sixth and ninth largest producers of fossil fuels, anyone who supplied fossil fuels with knowledge of the problem would be liable. At one point, counsel seemed to limit liability to those who had promoted allegedly phony science to deny climate change. But at oral argument, plaintiffs’ counsel clarified that any such promotion remained merely a “plus factor.” Their theory rests on the sweeping proposition that otherwise lawful and everyday sales of fossil fuels, combined with an awareness that greenhouse gas
emissions lead to increased global temperatures, constitute a public nuisance.6
A public nuisance under federal common law, both sides agree, is an “unreasonable interference with a right common to the general public,” as set forth in the Restatement (Second) of Torts § 821B(1) (1979). Putting aside momentarily the important issue of displacement, a successful public nuisance claim therefore requires proof that a defendant’s activity unreasonably interferes with the use or enjoyment of a public right and thereby causes the public-at-large substantial and widespread harm. Native Vill. of Kivalina v. ExxonMobil Corp., 696 F.3d 849, 855 (9th Cir. 2012) (citing Missouri v. Illinois, 200 U.S. 496, 521 (1906)).
No plaintiff has ever succeeded in bringing a nuisance claim based on global warming. But courts that have addressed such claims, as well as the parties here, have turned to the Restatement to analyze whether the common law tort of nuisance can be applied in this context.7 Section 821B of the Restatement sets forth three tests for whether an interference with a public right is unreasonable:
(a) Whether the conduct involves a significant interference with the public health, the public safety, the public peace, the public comfort or the public convenience, or
(b) whether the conduct is proscribed by a statute, ordinance or administrative regulation, or
(c) whether the conduct is of a continuing nature or has produced a permanent or long-lasting effect, and, as the actor knows or has reason to know, has a significant effect upon the public right.
To be held liable for a public nuisance, a defendant’s interference with a public right can either be intentional, or unintentional and otherwise actionable under principles controlling liability for negligence, recklessness, or abnormally dangerous activities.
Here, plaintiffs seek to impose liability on five companies for their production and sale of fossil fuels worldwide. These claims — through which plaintiffs request billions of dollars to abate the localized effects of an inherently global phenomenon — undoubtedly implicate the interests of countless governments, both foreign and domestic. The challenged conduct is, as far as the complaints allege, lawful in every nation. And, as the United States aptly notes, many
foreign governments actively support the very activities targeted by plaintiffs’ claims (USA Amicus Br. at 18). Nevertheless, plaintiffs would have a single judge or jury in California impose an abatement fund as a result of such overseas behavior. Because this relief would effectively allow plaintiffs to govern conduct and control energy policy on foreign soil, we must exercise great caution.
With respect to balancing the social utility against the gravity of the anticipated harm, it is true that carbon dioxide released from fossil fuels has caused (and will continue to cause) global warming. But against that negative, we must weigh this positive: our industrial revolution and the development of our modern world has literally been fueled by oil and coal. Without those fuels, virtually all of our monumental progress would have been impossible. All of us have benefitted. Having reaped the benefit of that historic progress, would it really be fair to now ignore our own responsibility in the use of fossil fuels and place the blame for global warming on those who supplied what we demanded? Is it really fair, in light of those benefits, to say that the sale of fossil fuels was unreasonable? This order recognizes but does not resolve these questions, for there is a more direct resolution from the Supreme Court and our court of appeals, next considered.
This order fully accepts the vast scientific consensus that the combustion of fossil fuels has materially increased atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, which in turn has increased the median temperature of the planet and accelerated sea level rise. But questions of how to appropriately balance these worldwide negatives against the worldwide positives of the energy itself, and of how to allocate the pluses and minuses among the nations of the world, demand the expertise of our environmental agencies, our diplomats, our Executive, and at least the Senate. Nuisance suits in various United States judicial districts regarding conduct worldwide are far less likely to solve the problem and, indeed, could interfere with reaching a worldwide consensus.
It may seem peculiar that an earlier order refused to remand this action to state court on the ground that plaintiffs’ claims were necessarily governed by federal law, while the current order concludes that federal common law should not be extended to provide relief. There is, however, no inconsistency. It remains proper for the scope of plaintiffs’ claims to be decided under federal law, given the international reach of the alleged wrong and given that the instrumentality of the alleged harm is the navigable waters of the United States. Although the scope of plaintiffs’ claims is determined by federal law, there are sound reasons why regulation of the worldwide problem of global warming should be determined by our political branches, not by our judiciary.
In sum, this order accepts the science behind global warming. So do both sides. The dangers raised in the complaints are very real. But those dangers are worldwide. Their causes are worldwide. The benefits of fossil fuels are worldwide. The problem deserves a solution on a more vast scale than can be supplied by a district judge or jury in a public nuisance case. While it remains true that our federal courts have authority to fashion common law remedies for claims based on global warming, courts must also respect and defer to the other co-equal branches of government when the problem at hand clearly deserves a solution best addressed by those branches. The Court will stay its hand in favor of solutions by the legislative and executive branches. For the reasons stated, defendants’ motion to dismiss is GRANTED.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Dated: June 25, 2018.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
h/t to Charles the Moderator and James Braden