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In a groundbreaking move, a group of sixteen Puerto Rican communities, which were ravaged by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, is suing several fossil fuel producers and other interested parties in a first-of-its-kind, class action climate liability lawsuit. The sixteen communities have filed the court action on behalf of Puerto Rico’s sixty municipalities.
The hurricanes of 2017 resulted in thousands of deaths and injuries in the region as well as billions of dollars in damages. The lawsuit alleges that the deadly storms were caused by climate change related to fossil fuels.
The companies being sued — which are either oil producers or lobbying and related firms hired by the producers — include BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Shell, Occidental Petroleum, Motiva Enterprises, BHP, Arch Resources, Peabody Energy, and Rio Tinto.
All the companies are among the ninety corporations that scientific research indicates are responsible for nearly two-thirds of carbon emissions since the Industrial Revolution. The companies listed in the lawsuit collectively account for some 40 per cent of industrial emissions between 1965 and 2017, according to the complaint.
The lawsuit alleges that named companies knew over half a century ago about the potential catastrophic impacts of a warming planet, and that this warming resulted from the use of their products. The lawsuit also details how the companies deliberately acted to conceal what they knew about climate impacts and to publicly disseminate disinformation, fund climate denial, and obstruct policy responses and attempts to shift to alternative energy sources.
The action — filed in the US Federal District Court of Puerto Rico — lays out the following allegations:
“Instead of acting to limit the potential greenhouse gas emissions, they mobilized with the coal and fossil fuel dependent industries to manufacture and spread propaganda and deception about climate science, contrary to their own internal scientific conclusions in order to ensure unabated emissions and the sale of their products to consumers worldwide and in Puerto Rico.”
It should be noted that nearly 25 years ago, the oil producing giant Shell predicted in an internal 1998 report that a class-action lawsuit would be brought against fossil fuel companies following “a series of violent storms.”
The class action lawsuit by Puerto Rico was filed under the The 1970 Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (Rico) Act. This law was intended to target mob bosses, the mafia, and other large organised criminal enterprises. This lawsuit makes history as it is the first such action to use a criminal racketeering law against oil and fossil fuel companies.