Science Group Applauds New Climate Accountability Lawsuit by Oregon’s Most Populous County

Published Jun 22, 2023

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The County of Multnomah—encompassing Portland and parts of Vancouver metro areas—today filed a new lawsuit aiming to hold Big Oil accountable for public nuisance and damages related to the climate change crisis, as well as consumer fraud and deception.

County Commissioners, led by County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson, passed the resolution Thursday afternoon to sue oil and gas companies, energy companies, industry trade associations, and a consulting firm on behalf of their constituents, the residents of Multnomah County. The County is seeking remedies for damages related to the 2021 heat dome event, that has been directly linked to climate change through a growing body of attribution science.

The entities named in the suit include Chevron, ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, the American Petroleum Institute (API), Peabody Energy, and Koch Industries. The case is also the first time the consulting firm McKinsey and Company and the trade association Western States Petroleum Association have been named as defendants.

Oregon is facing increased costs from climate related impacts including worsened air quality, increased heat related deaths and increased risk of wildfires. In a recent report, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) found that the world’s 88 largest fossil fuel companies—including ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron, and Shell—and cement manufacturers are responsible for over a third of area burned by wildfires across Western North America in the last 40 years. The historic heat dome named in the complaint also led to at least 69 heat deaths in the Portland area and record setting maximum temperatures of 116 degrees. The county estimates that costs from human-caused climate change will soon reach $27 billion annually in Oregon.

With today’s announcement, Multnomah County joins more than 40 cities, counties, and states across the U.S. and its territories that are suing major fossil fuel companies over devastating climate impacts and deliberate campaigns to spread disinformation about climate science and the harmful effects of their products.

Below is a statement by Delta Merner, lead scientist at the Science Hub for Climate Litigation at UCS:

“Multnomah County residents are on the frontlines of devastating climate change impacts. Extreme heat and wildfires are taking a massive toll on the health, well-being, and livelihoods of community members and leaving scars that will last for generations. A growing body of attribution science is paving the way for real accountability, showing over and over that the fossil fuel industry bears a great deal of responsibility for the damage done. As the first constitutional climate lawsuit trial draws to a close in Montana, plaintiffs, advocates, and scientists are hopeful that our justice system will work effectively, informed by robust scientific evidence.

“Across the country and the world, climate litigation is helping communities resist the fossil fuel industry’s attempts to further extend a dangerous, unjust and destructive fossil fuel-dependent energy system and economy. While nothing can truly compensate for the lives lost, the homes destroyed, or the irreplaceable natural landscapes forever altered, legal avenues provide a glimmer of hope for justice. Climate litigation is a necessary mechanism to hold these corporations accountable for their callous disregard for the well-being of communities and the planet.”