Oakland City Attorney Barbara J. Parker and San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera filed separate lawsuits on behalf of their respective cities Tuesday against the five largest investor-owned producers of fossil fuels in the world. The lawsuits ask the courts to hold these companies responsible for the costs of sea walls and other infrastructure necessary to protect Oakland and San Francisco from ongoing and future consequences of climate change and rising sea levels caused by the companies’ production of massive amounts of fossil fuels oaklandcityattorney.
The lawsuits are the response to the current threat both cities face from the ocean. The six-foot-tall seawall, which sits just below the cement we’re standing on, took nearly four decades to construct and was completed in 1916. More than a century later, the wall is badly in need of updates. And because of warming oceans, sea levels are expected to increase up to 66 inches between 2000-2100. Strengthening the wall has become the port’s top priority in light of this threat which includes an estimated $3 billion in sea level rise mitigation and $2 billion in earthquake retrofitting will come at a huge cost to the city motherjones.com.
The coastal line is a serious concern for most cities along the coast. The shoreline of San Francisco Bay comprises approximately one third of the total California coastline. Climate change is accelerating the rate at which oceans are rising and our lower-lying shoreline areas are increasingly exposed to flood waters.
Over the next several decades, these hazards will increase in frequency and extent. Studies conducted by the city of San Francisco have argued devastating results if the situation is not corrected. The study analyzed 10 SLR scenarios, or future tide levels, with varying levels of permanent SLR inundation and temporary flooding from extreme storms equating between 12 and 108 inches above today’s average daily high tide (MHHW) 3–10.
Without adaptation measures, the frequency of temporary flooding will increase with rising seas in low-lying Bayshore areas, until permanent inundation is reached.
The shoreline has several low points and in some cases, larger inland areas may experience flooding through a relatively small shoreline access point. With ground elevations ranging from approximately 2.5 to 12.5 feet NAVD (North American Vertical Datum), and MHHW of 6.83 feet NAVD along the Airport’s shoreline, SFO’s assets, including runways, taxiways, terminal buildings, emergency facilities, and tenant operation centers, are currently vulnerable to flooding from extreme storm events. SLR will increase the frequency of these events and intensify the severity of potential flooding at SFO sfplanning.
In Oakland, these disastrous consequences will disproportionately impact and endanger the lives and property of African Americans, Hispanics and other people of color, as well as low income populations who reside in West Oakland and the flatlands of East Oakland oaklandcityattorney.
In both Oakland and San Francisco, property worth billions of dollars is located six feet or less above current sea levels. Bayside sea level rise from global warming places at risk at least $10 billion of public property within San Francisco and as much as $39 billion of private property oaklandcityattorney.
In response to this situation the cities of San Francisco and Oakland have taken legal action. San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera and Oakland City Attorney Barbara J. Parker have lawsuits filed in the superior courts in San Francisco and Alameda Counties against the defendant companies – Chevron, ConocoPhilips, Exxon Mobil, BP and Royal Dutch Shell oaklandcityattorney. The suit is based on the recent disclosure of internal industry documents.
The fossil fuel industry’s own records show that the defendant companies have knowingly misled the American public and the world about the dangers of fossil-fuel driven climate change. In 1968, a scientific consultant working for the American Petroleum Institute, a trade association representing fossil fuel companies, warned that carbon dioxide emissions were almost certain to produce significant temperature increases and a rise in sea levels. In 1980, API and its member companies learned that “likely impacts” of global warming would include globally catastrophic effects oaklandcityattorney.
Industry documents from the 1970s and 1980s in which the company’s own experts acknowledged the danger of global warming from massive fossil fuel usage that would exceed to unprecedented levels. That the companies, several years before, had been warned by consulted scientists about the harmful effects and still continued their operations makes them liable for the damages incurred on both cities eenews.net.
The lawsuits draw inspiration from litigation brought against tobacco companies in the 1990s. The cases accused the industry of promoting a deadly product even though insiders knew smoking was dangerous. Asked why she chose to make sea-level rise the focus of the case, Parker said it is a signal of climate change that's easy to understand. As explained by Mrs. Parker: That's what you can clearly see, and it's been proven, and you can see it every day. We have a very simple and straightforward case scientificamerican.
The suit is being based on the argument that the products created from the identified companies have created a public nuisance. That the companies were aware of the harmful effects of their products and continued to sell them regardless. California has a law known as a public nuisance law that makes a company liable for products that continually create a nuisance or threat to the public good youtube.
The suit has also been joined by other legal parties. The law firm Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP is helping the plaintiffs. So is Matt Pawa, a well-known environmental lawyer with a specialty in climate change cases. Pawa helped argue the landmark environmental case American Electric Power Co. v. Connecticut, which wound its way to the Supreme Court. Pawa also led the plaintiffs in a 2008 case, Kivalina v. Exxon Mobil Corp., in which an Alaskan village made arguments against Exxon similar to those that Oakland and San Francisco are making now.
Pawa has also been consulting with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D), who is investigating Exxon for allegedly deceiving investors and the public about the dangers of climate change scientificamerican. This case could stand to establish a precedent for future litigation against large oil companies.
The law suit is heavily predicated on two aspects; early reports written in the 1960s from the American Petroleum Institute and the argument that the oil companies have done nothing to address the environmental problems of their products. More recent documents published by the organization conclude starkly different findings. To date, CO2 emissions from power generation in the U.S. have fallen 17 percent since 2000. Even without an emissions reduction requirement in place, API modeling projects natural gas will continue to drive emissions reductions in the power sector, just from fuel switching.
Between 1990 and 2015, the industry has invested over $321 billion toward improving the environmental performance of its products, facilities and operations; $996 for every man, woman and child in the United States. Furthermore, the oil and natural gas industry invested $90 billion in new low- and zero-emissions technologies between 2000 and 2014. This demonstrates industry’s dedication to protecting the environment so that we can meet today’s energy needs and develop next-generation forms of energy.
Refineries are also committed to the environment and have spent more than $160 billion between 1990 and 2015 on producing cleaner-burning fuels. Gasoline produced today has reduced levels of sulfur, toxics and summer vapor pressure, improving air quality. Ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel has 99.5 percent less sulfur – and is now produced for all highway and non-road uses, allowing for dramatically reduced nitrogen oxide emissions from newer diesel engines. Refiners have dramatically changed fuel formulations across the country and continue to enable significant reductions in vehicle tailpipe emissions api.
API represents over 625 oil and natural gas companies. Howard J. Feldman is the Senior Director for Regulatory and Scientific Affairs at the American Petroleum Institute. Testifying before a public hearing, he discussed several aspects of how the environmental concerns were being addressed by the industry.
US oil and natural gas production has surged, methane emissions have declined significantly.
For example, methane emissions from the natural gas industry have fallen 18.6 percent even as production increased by 50 percent between 1990 and 2015. Methane emissions from hydraulically-fractured natural gas wells have fallen nearly 79 percent since 2005 and the increased use of natural gas to fuel the power sector has played the most significant role in the near 30-year lows in carbon dioxide emissions from power generation that we see today.
API has maintained a collaborative working relationship with EPA staff to provide operational and emissions data to inform the developments of these important rules. During this time, our objective has remained the identification of cost-effective emission control requirements that reduce VOC emissions for new sources and, as a co-benefit, also reduce methane (api). Robin Rorick Group Director, Midstream and Industry Operations the American Petroleum Institute testifying before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials further added to the explanation.
The United States is leading the world both in the production and refining of oil and natural gas and in the reduction of carbon emissions which are at their lowest levels in almost 25 years. Carbon emissions from electricity generation have declined 17 percent since 2000 and are at their lowest level in nearly 30 years; more than 60 percent of the decrease in power generation-related CO2 emissions since 2005 was due to fuel switching to natural gas.
In less than a decade, we have transitioned from an era of energy scarcity and dependence to one of energy abundance and security. This energy renaissance has helped U.S. families save on their energy bills, created greater job opportunities for American workers, bolstered U.S. manufacturing, strengthened our economy, and helped to enhance our national security interests abroad (api).
In the Exxon projected outlook to 2030, they have published their own conclusion about C02 emissions. By 2030, global CO2 emissions are likely to be about 25 percent higher than they were in 2005. While this is a significant increase, it is substantially lower than the projected growth in energy demand over the period. This positive development is the result of expected gains in efficiency, as well as a shift over time to a significantly less carbon-intensive energy mix – mainly natural gas, nuclear and wind gaining shares as fuels for power generation.
Natural gas used for power generation can result in up to 60 percent less CO2 emissions than coal, currently the most widely used fuel for power generation. Growth in CO2 emissions through 2030 will be dominated by China, India and the other non-OECD countries. Non-OECD emissions surpassed OECD emissions in 2004; by 2030, non-OECD countries will account for two-thirds of the global total. Meanwhile, OECD emissions will decline by about 15 percent, and by 2030 will be down to 1980 levels (mtshouston).
In response to the argument of environmental responsibility, Exxon has articulated some important points. A careful analysis of global needs and aspirations make it clear the world will need hydrocarbons to lift billions out of poverty. That is why it will be essential to find ways to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions associated with energy use. Society faces a dual energy challenge: It is essential to expand energy supplies to support economic growth and improve living standards, and must be done so in a way that is environmentally responsible.
Energy powers economies and enables progress throughout the world. It provides heat for homes and businesses; power for hospitals and clinics; fuel for cooking and transportation; and light for schools and streets. Energy also opens trade and transportation, improves healthcare and sanitation, and expands education and individual opportunities.
Expanding access to reliable and affordable energy will improve the lives of billions of people around the world – including the more than one billion who currently lack access to electricity, a staple of modern life that many in the developed world take for granted (corporate.exxonmobil).
Energy powers technology and enables progress throughout the world. It provides heat for homes and businesses; power for hospitals and clinics to run advanced, life-saving equipment; fuel for cooking and transportation; and light for schools and streets. In 2040, the energy sector will need enough supplies to sustain the lives of 9 billion people and a world economy more than double that of 2014. Expanded economic output and roughly 2 billion additional consumers by 2040 will mean that global energy demand will likely grow by about 25 percent over 2014.
Given the importance of energy, it is in the interest of every government to increase access to reliable and affordable supplies for its citizens. That is why consumers should be concerned with policies that could have an adverse impact on energy production. Such restrictions could also impact the rate of economic development and the ability of nations to develop (corporate.exxonmobil).
By 2030, there will be more than 1 billion additional people on the earth in total, close to 8 billion people, all seeking better living standards. Economic expansion will be key to reducing poverty and improving health and prosperity, and we expect developing countries to expand their economies rapidly toward that end. This will require reliable and affordable energy, driving up demand by close to 35 percent versus 2005.
Energy that people use every day to run their households and drive their cars –what we categorize as personal, or direct, consumption of energy includes the fuel used to make electricity for the home. To complete the picture, we also need to count the energy that powers private enterprise, public services and other important needs across society.
This indirect consumption includes energy required to run buildings (schools, hospitals, retail shops), commercial transportation (trucking, air and rail travel) and industry (manufacturing, chemicals, steel). Every member of society benefits from indirect energy usage – through job opportunities, higher living standards and overall economic growth (mtshouston). Energy consumption is only going to grow and become more of a necessity that industry must be ready to accommodate.
The lawsuit brought on by the cities of San Francisco and Oakland are part of a desperate means to raise money for necessary infrastructure repair. Those cities don’t have the financial resources to pay for the repairs and upgrades making this law suit somewhat imperative (motherjones). If this law suit succeeds it will inevitably set a precedence. Other coastal communities will be in line to present law suits as a means to finance their own large scale infrastructure development projects at the expense of the energy industry.
However, what must not be overlooked is that this legal attack is also part of a changing political strategy in the United States. As reported in a previous paper, many burning political agendas are now being taken to the courtroom rather than over the legislative course. Publicly elected or appointed attorneys are discovering the power they possess to affect national issues. This case is apparently drawing wide spread support, to include the New York Attorney General. It has the potential to set a pathway for future legal battles that could have severe national level effects on the political and economic spectrums.