It’s Honolulu versus big oil. And the Hawaiian capital is winning. In a recent effort to hold oil companies accountable for global warming, the city and county of Honolulu just overcame a major legal barrier.
Hawaii Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey Crabtree ruled in Honolulu’s favor as Sunoco, Chevron, ExxonMobil and others tried to dismiss the lawsuit. Honolulu is one step closer to getting big oil to the stand. “This is an unprecedented case for any court, let alone a state court trial judge,” Crabtree wrote in his ruling, as reported by Honolulu Civil Beat.
Back in 2020, the Honolulu Board of Water Supply filed the case. Plaintiffs say that the giant fossil fuel industry has long deceived the public about climate change and discredited climate science. While big oil takes no responsibility, the public pays the price, according to the lawsuit. Rising sea levels will harm Oahu, causing flooding, erosion, extreme weather and beach loss. Fish and coral reefs are in danger of dying. Plaintiffs argue that it was the defendants’ duty to disclose information tying fossil fuel to climate-related impact on Oahu.
Fossil fuel companies claim this should be a federal legal matter since the plaintiffs wanted to regulate global fossil fuel emissions. But Crabtree wrote, “As this court understands it, Plaintiffs do not ask for damages for all effects of climate change; rather, they seek damages primarily for the effects of climate change allegedly caused by Defendants’ breach of long-recognized duties.”
Honolulu is not alone in suing oil companies over climate change. However, among U.S. judges, Crabtree is the first to have ruled to reject an argument from fossil fuel companies.
“On behalf of Honolulu’s taxpayers, we look forward to the opportunity to present our evidence at trial,” Honolulu’s chief climate change officer Matthew Gonser said in a statement. “We are confident in the strength of our case.”
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