California goes to war with oil and gas giants over climate change 'deception'

Oil and gas industry representatives slammed California's lawsuit and said climate policy should be made by Congress, not courts

California Gov. Gavin Newsom slammed oil and gas companies Saturday, accusing industry leaders of "misleading the public" about climate change, according to a court filing. 

Newsom and state Attorney General Rob Bonta announced a new lawsuit targeting Exxon Mobil, Shell, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, BP and the American Petroleum Institute (API) for allegedly "engaging in a decades-long campaign of deception and creating statewide climate change-related harms in California." 

"For more than 50 years, Big Oil has been lying to us — covering up the fact that they’ve long known how dangerous the fossil fuels they produce are for our planet," Newsom said in a statement. "California taxpayers shouldn’t have to foot the bill for billions of dollars in damages — wildfires wiping out entire communities, toxic smoke clogging our air, deadly heat waves, record-breaking droughts parching our wells. 

"With this lawsuit, California is taking action to hold big polluters accountable and deliver the justice our people deserve."

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XOM EXXON MOBIL CORP. 114.05 +3.29 +2.97%
SHEL SHELL PLC 71.42 +1.48 +2.12%
CVX CHEVRON CORP. 159.31 +4.03 +2.60%
COP CONOCOPHILLIPS 115.17 +3.83 +3.44%
BP BP PLC 36.25 +0.74 +2.08%

The complaint filed in San Francisco court Friday alleges big oil and gas companies have caused tens of billions of dollars in damage to California by deceiving the public.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom

California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks during a press conference Oct. 6, 2022, in San Francisco. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images / Getty Images)

California has sought the creation of an abatement fund to pay for future damages caused by climate-related disasters in the state, the filing showed.

API, an industry trade group, said climate policy is for Congress to debate and decide, not the court system. 

"The record of the past two decades demonstrates that the industry has achieved its goal of providing affordable, reliable American energy to U.S. consumers while substantially reducing emissions and our environmental footprint," an API spokesman told Fox Business. 

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Oil drilling equipment on federal land

Oil drilling equipment on federal land near Fellows, Calif., April 15, 2023. (REUTERS/Nichola Groom/File Photo / Reuters Photos)

"This ongoing, coordinated campaign to wage meritless, politicized lawsuits against a foundational American industry and its workers is nothing more than a distraction from important national conversations and an enormous waste of California taxpayer resources." 

Shell, in an emailed statement, said the company supports "the need for society to transition to a lower-carbon future." 

"Addressing climate change requires a collaborative, society-wide approach. We do not believe the courtroom is the right venue to address climate change, but that smart policy from government and action from all sectors is the appropriate way to reach solutions and drive progress," a Shell spokesperson said. 

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Bonta said oil and gas companies have fed "lies and mistruths" to the public for decades in pursuit of profit. 

"With our lawsuit, California becomes the largest geographic area and the largest economy to take these giant oil companies to court. From extreme heat to drought and water shortages, the climate crisis they have caused is undeniable," Bonta said.  

"It is time they pay to abate the harm they have caused. We will meet the moment and fight tirelessly on behalf of all Californians, in particular those who live in environmental justice communities."  

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The legal action follows dozens of lawsuits filed in recent years against the fossil fuel industry by states and municipalities across the United States, broadly alleging harms from climate impacts, including extreme weather.

Chevron, BP and Conoco Phillips did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Fox Business. Exxon Mobil could not be immediately reached for comment. 

Reuters contributed to this report.