Supreme Court Rejects Fossil Fuel Companies’ Petitions to Hear Appeals in Climate Lawsuits

Published Apr 24, 2023

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The Supreme Court today rejected ExxonMobil and Suncor’s petition to hear their appeal of the 10th Circuit’s decision that a case brought against them by the City of Boulder and Boulder County belongs in state court. The court also rejected petitions for certiorari from fossil fuel companies in dozens of cases filed in Rhode Island, Maryland, California, Delaware, New Jersey, and Hawaii.

Despite pressure from the fossil fuel companies to overrule unanimous rulings from lower courts, the Supreme Court today decided in favor of community plaintiffs who have waited years for their day in court. Twenty appellate judges across six circuit courts, 13 federal district judges, and the U.S. Department of Justice have all agreed the cases should be heard in state courts. The lawsuits seek to hold fossil fuel companies accountable for climate damages and/or deceiving the public about the harm their products cause.

The case in Boulder was brought against the fossil fuel giants in 2018 for their decades of disinformation and other contributions to the climate crisis. The case points to a wide range of challenges the community is facing due to the changing climate, including unprecedented flooding, prolonged drought, extreme heat conditions, unreliable snowpack, and worsening air quality. In 2021, the Marshall Fire underscored the urgency of the case, destroying over a thousand homes in Boulder County and costing approximately $2 billion in damage.

The cases are built on a foundation of scientific evidence that shows unequivocally that human activities—particularly the fossil fuel industry’s operations and products—are causing the Earth's climate to change.

Below is a statement by Dr. Delta Merner, lead scientist at the Science Hub for Climate Litigation at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

“The Supreme Court’s decision today is a significant victory for climate justice and climate lawsuits filed across the United States and around the world. The communities involved in this case suffered unimaginable losses due, in large part, to the recklessness and greed of the fossil fuel industry, and now they are one step closer to having their day in court.

“ExxonMobil, Suncor, Chevron, Shell and other fossil fuel companies have known for decades that heat-trapping emissions from their operations and the use of their products drive climate change and its impacts, but they have continued to deceive the public and obstruct meaningful action. The decision sends a powerful message to fossil fuel companies: Evading responsibility will not be tolerated.

“As we become more adept at identifying the specific contributions of individual companies to the climate crisis through attribution science, we are increasingly able to trace the lines of responsibility from the boardrooms of fossil fuel companies to the shattered homes and lives of those harmed by climate change.

“While no amount of money can compensate for the damage climate change has wrought, a victory in this case could provide some measure of justice and demonstrate the power of litigation as a tool for climate action.”