Commercial fishermen in California and Oregon sued dozens of oil and gas companies yesterday for hurting the fishing market in the Pacific Ocean by raising temperatures on Earth.
The Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA) is seeking financial compensation for its losses from 30 companies, including oil and gas supermajors, according to the suit filed in a California state court.
“It’s industry to industry, one harming another with the causal connection to prove it,” Noah Oppenheim, executive director of PCFFA, said in an interview. “Certainly we believe that the merits of the case are pretty clear and self-explanatory.”
Defendants in the case, including Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp., BP PLC, Royal Dutch Shell PLC and ConocoPhillips, have known for almost 50 years that burning fossil fuels warms the planet, the plaintiffs said.
Algal blooms, which can lead to a buildup of domoic acid in crabs, are scientifically tied to warming oceans. Because the acid is dangerous to people, human-caused warming is directly threatening the fishing industry, said Oppenheim, who has degrees in marine biology and marine policies.
“If the fishermen were causing this much harm to the public, we should get shut down,” he said.
The lawsuit opens a new chapter in climate change litigation. It stands out from other cases filed by several cities and counties that claim oil companies are causing a rise in sea levels.
In those cases, city attorneys filed the lawsuits with the help of outside environmental lawyers. The fishermen’s case is different, said David Bookbinder, chief counsel at the Niskanen Center. He called the case a “significant” step.
“When a group of commercial fishermen, among the most conservative people in America, sue the fossil fuel industry, the defendants can no longer characterize these cases as being brought by ‘radical politicians,’” Bookbinder said.
“And once the first private-sector plaintiffs have filed a case, the defendants are going to have to wonder where it will stop,” he added. “This is a whole new front.”
Several oil companies did not respond to requests for comment.
The California law firm Sher Edling LLP—which is involved in at least eight other climate lawsuits against fossil fuel companies, primarily in California—represents the plaintiffs.
In July, when Baltimore sued oil companies over climate damages, Sher Edling represented the city (Climatewire, July 23).
A spokeswoman for the National Association of Manufacturers, Lindsey de la Torre, said the court should dismiss the case.
“Over the past year and a half, we have seen this very law firm file this same litigation on behalf of several municipalities and one state, and their copy-and-paste legal strategy has yet to succeed,” she said in a statement.
The complaint rests heavily on climate research and marine life science, including how water temperatures have changed.
The plaintiffs argue in court papers that oil companies “knew or should have known of the climate effects inherently caused by the normal use and operation of their fossil fuel products, including the likelihood and likely severity of increased mean sea surface temperature, marine heatwaves, harmful algal blooms, and marine toxin outbreaks.”
The plaintiffs cite NOAA statistics that ocean temperatures rose 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit by 2016, compared against the 20th-century average.
Michael Short, a spokesman for NAM, had this to say when asked about the case by email:
“Out of curiosity, how do these folks power their boats, with sails or the product the defendants make?”
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from E&E News. E&E provides daily coverage of essential energy and environmental news at www.eenews.net.