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CEO DATELINE – API target of climate change lawsuits

Sept. 14, 2020
By Walt Williams

Another state and a city have named the American Petroleum Institute as a defendant in lawsuits brought against the oil and gas industry for allegedly misleading the public about the reality of climate change, the news site Bloomberg Law reported Monday.

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Minnesota was the first state to take legal action API, with state Attorney General Keith Ellison bringing a lawsuit in June against the trade group, ExxonMobil and Koch Industries for consumer fraud and deceptive trade practices. Hoboken, N.J., filed its lawsuit Sept. 2 and Delaware announced Sept. 10 it was suing 31 fossil fuel companies and API.

The Minnesota lawsuit seeks restitution for Minnesotans allegedly harmed by inaction on climate change and wants API and the other defendants to fund a public education campaign to counter their alleged past misstatements.

“Impacts from climate change hurt our low-income residents and communities of color first and worst. The impacts on farmers in our agricultural state are widespread as well,” Ellison said in a statement. “Holding these companies accountable for the climate deception they’ve spread and continue to spread is essential to helping families to afford their lives and live with dignity and respect.”

In a statement to Bloomberg Law, API defended the industry’s attempts to reduce greenhouse gases responsible for climate change.

“The record of the past two decades demonstrates that the industry has achieved its goal of providing affordable, reliable American energy to U.S. consumers while substantially reducing emissions and our environmental footprint,” API senior vice president and chief legal officer Paul Afonso told the news site. “Any suggestion to the contrary is false.”

Legal experts told Bloomberg Law the lawsuits pose a serious risk to API by seeking internal documents stretching back decades and by requiring expensive courtroom defense.

“There are colorable claims against trade associations that make the risk of them being litigated high, even if there’s a low probability of plaintiffs’ success,” said Donald J. Kochan, a professor at George Mason University specializing in environmental law and torts.