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Boulder Climate Change Lawsuit Triggers Legal Finger-pointing

September 19, 2018

Sequoia Jahn, 3, holds a sign related to climate change during an April 17 rally on the Pearl Street Mall held by Boulder County, Boulder, and San Miguel County officials, where they announced a lawsuit against oil and gas companies over the costs of combating climate change.

Petroleum producers targeted by Boulder and Boulder County in a bid to hold them responsible for current and future costs associated with climate change are trying in a recent court filing to push the blame back on virtually anyone who uses fossil fuels.

In a filing dated Sept. 10, the Exxon Mobil Corporation and Suncor Energy that is labeled a defendants’ designation of “non-parties at fault,” the corporations deny that they bear any fault for damages cited by Boulder, Boulder County, and San Miguel County, which is also party to the suit that was filed April 17.

But the filing goes further, in saying that the county governments “combust fossil fuels — the alleged root cause of their injuries.” Accordingly, the plaintiff governments “are by definition ‘at fault’ for the alleged damages they claim to have sustained,” the filing states.

The companies go on to state that by pinning high greenhouse gas levels on the burning of fossil fuels, the governments “implicate not only themselves, but every single person or entity on the planet that has ever contributed to greenhouse gas emissions” through a wide range of activities.

Those additional responsible parties, the Sept. 10 filing argues, include “emitters and consumers of fossil fuels, producers of electricity, governments and government entities, manufacturers and businesses” such as farms, dairy and transportation.

Although the lawsuit was initially filed in Boulder District Court , the defendants quickly filed a motion to move its venue to U.S. District Court in Denver. That is where it currently resides, although the defendants are contesting that, and the final question of venue has not definitively been settled.

The Colorado lawsuit is not the first to test the culpability of fossil fuel producers for the effects of climate change. Nine other coastal governments in coastal states — eight in California, along with New York City — pioneered such litigation, but the Colorado action is the first to be filed in the nation’s interior.

New York City’s lawsuit against five of the world’s biggest oil companies was tossed out by a U.S. district judge in July.

And, in June, a federal judge in California threw out lawsuits against five oil companies by the cities of San Francisco and Oakland. In doing so, U.S. District Judge William Alsup accepted the science behind global warming, but ruled, “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.”

Charlie Brennan: 303-473-1327, brennanc@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/chasbrennan

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