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Hawaii’s Supreme Court Rejects Big Oil’s Attempt to Scrap Climate Case

Filed in 2020, the lawsuit against major oil and gas companies will now head to trial.

Charred remains of a burned neighbourhood is seen in the aftermath of a wildfire, in Lahaina, western Maui, Hawaii, on August 14, 2023.

Hawaii’s Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected U.S. oil giants’ effort to scrap a climate deception lawsuit brought by the City and County of Honolulu, allowing the case to head to trial.

Filed in 2020, the lawsuit accuses ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, Sunoco, and other major oil and gas companies of introducing and promoting fossil fuel products that they knew were a threat to the world’s climate. The oil giants engaged in “public deception campaigns designed to obscure the connection between their products and global warming and the environmental, physical, social, and economic consequences flowing from it,” the lawsuit alleges.

In his majority opinion, Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald wrote that Big Oil’s attempt to toss the lawsuit on the grounds that it is “another in a long line of lawsuits seeking to regulate interstate and international greenhouse gas emissions” fell short because the suit “does not seek to regulate emissions and does not seek damages for interstate emissions.”

“Rather, plaintiffs’ complaint ‘clearly seeks to challenge the promotion and sale of fossil-fuel products without warning and abetted by a sophisticated disinformation campaign,'” Recktenwald wrote. “This case concerns torts committed in Hawaii that caused alleged injuries in Hawaii. Thus, defendants’ arguments on appeal fail.”

Matthew Gonser, executive director of Honolulu’s Office of Climate Change, Sustainability, and Resiliency, applauded the court’s decision in a statement and pledged to “continue pursuing this case in the trial court where we filed it three and half years ago, and where discovery can now begin in earnest.”

“This is a good day for advancing our efforts to help Honolulu survive the costs and consequences of the climate crisis,” said Gonser.

The Hawaii Supreme Court began hearing Big Oil’s arguments for dismissing the Honolulu suit back in August, shortly after wildfires ravaged the town of Lahaina on the island of Maui, killing at least 97 people. Scientists argued the climate crisis helped create the dry conditions that allowed the fires to spread with catastrophic speed.

Maui County is suing Big Oil along with Honolulu and dozens of other cities, counties, and states across the U.S.

In September, the state of California became the largest economy in the world to take legal action against the fossil fuel industry, accusing it of an “ongoing campaign to seek endless profits at the expense of our planet.”

While oil and gas company profits have declined this year compared to last year’s record-shattering windfalls, they began to trend upward again in the third quarter of 2023. Exxon and Chevron — both of which recently agreed to acquire two of their smaller competitors — posted profit increases of 15% and 8.5% respectively in the third quarter compared to the previous three months.

On Tuesday, BP announced $3.29 billion in third-quarter profits, up from $2.6 billion in the second quarter.

“As the United States comes off a summer of dangerous, record-breaking extreme heat, Americans are paying the price for climate disasters while Big Oil CEOs are lining their pockets,” Cassidy DiPaola, campaign manager for Fossil Free Media, said in a statement. “Big Oil’s rapidly growing profits and fossil fuel expansion jeopardizes a livable future for all and the health of our democracy.”

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