New York City Climate Lawsuit Dismissal Leaves Taxpayers Alone to Shoulder Massive Climate Adaptation Costs

Statement by Ken Kimmell, Union of Concerned Scientists

Published Jul 19, 2018

WASHINGTON (July 19, 2018)—A federal judge today dismissed a lawsuit filed by New York City seeking to hold five of the world’s largest fossil fuel companies liable for climate damages. U.S. District Judge John Keenan ruled that the federal government’s legislative and executive branches, not the judiciary, are responsible for addressing climate change.

The ruling is a setback for New York City and will force taxpayers alone pay for the New York metro area’s massive climate adaptation costs, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. The city experienced more than $70 billion in property damages from Hurricane Sandy and has launched a $20 billion initiative to protect residents and infrastructure from future climate change-related extreme weather events.

Below is a statement by Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).  

“There is a grave irony here. The fossil fuel company defendants claimed in court—and the judge apparently agreed—that it is entirely up to Congress and the president to address climate change. But these same defendants and their trade groups have fought successfully against even modest laws and regulations to cut the carbon pollution from burning fossil fuels that causes global warming. My grandmother would have called this ‘chutzpah’ and lawyers call it ‘unclean hands,’ but no matter what you call it, the court should not have let these companies off the hook with this defense.

“It is also important to note that this suit was not focused on ‘solving’ global warming. The suit sought to compensate New York City for the damages it has already suffered and will incur down the road. The climate threats facing New York City are overwhelming, and taxpayers are already paying to protect the city from future Sandy-scale damages.

“According to a recent UCS analysis, New York City residents can expect accelerating sea level rise that by 2045 will threaten some 3,000 homes that today represent $1.3 billion annually in local property taxes. By the end of the century, some 57,000 homes that currently contribute $490 billion in annual property taxes will be at risk. 

Research shows that Hurricane Sandy's storm surge flooded an area about 27 square miles larger than it would have in 1880 due primarily to emissions from burning fossil fuels, which have caused sea levels to rise by 8 inches since then. Scientists have shown that the defendants—BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Shell—have contributed nearly 8 percent of global sea level rise since 1880. 

“New York City taxpayers and elected officials are facing the future head on. It’s time that fossil fuel companies pay their fair share.”