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(Reuters) – Decades-long deception by ExxonMobil, Chevron and other fossil fuel companies has exacerbated climate change and forced the state of New Jersey to pay billions of dollars to clean up after deadly disasters such as Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Ida, according to a new lawsuit filed Tuesday.
The complaint filed in state court makes New Jersey the latest state or municipality to target major oil companies in an attempt to force them to help pay for the damages incurred by the severe weather made worse by climate change.
Dozens of similar suits have been filed across the country in recent years claiming the companies knew for decades about the dangers of burning oil and gas, but instead engaged in deceptive campaigns to sustain the market for fossil fuels.
New Jersey alleges that a deceptive campaign has had particularly severe impacts for the Garden State. It paid billions to clean up after Superstorm Sandy and to fortify its shores from future storms. Thirty residents died when climate-exacerbated Hurricane Ida swept through in 2021 and poorer communities with large populations such as Newark and Atlantic City are at direct risk of flooding, the suit said.
“New Jersey is ground zero for some of the worst impacts of climate change,” said Shawn LaTourette, the commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, in a statement.
The suit follows attorney’s general in Rhode Island, Delaware, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont and the District of Columbia bringing similar lawsuits against the fossil fuel industry. More than a dozen cities and counties have also filed suit, including the city of Hoboken in New Jersey.
In those cases, the oil companies have been attempting to remove the cases to federal court, which is widely considered more sympathetic to corporate defendants. Oil companies are currently seeking a hearing with the U.S. Supreme Court to challenge two decisions sending their cases back to state court.
“Legal proceedings like this waste millions of dollars of taxpayer money and do nothing to advance meaningful actions that reduce the risk of climate change,” said Exxon spokesperson Casey Norton, who said the company is investing in efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while meeting societal energy demands.
“These suits serve only to divert attention and resources away from the collaborative, international efforts that are critical to developing a meaningful solution to climate change,” said Gibson Dunn and Crutcher attorney Theodore Boutrous, who represents Chevron.
The American Petroleum Institute, an oil industry group named in the suit, didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday.
The case is Matthew Platkin et al v. Exxon Mobil Corp et al., Superior Court of New Jersey Law Division, Mercer County, No. MER-L-001797-22.
For the state: Deputy attorneys general Andrew Reese, Monisha Kumar, Monica Finke and Daniel Resler; Victor Sher, Matthew Edling, Katie Jones and Quentin Karpilow of Sher Edling