New York City sues oil industry over climate change

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New York City is suing five major oil companies, becoming the latest in a growing number of municipalities attempting to hold the industry accountable for damages caused by climate change. The city is already spending over $20 billion to protect its citizens from rising sea levels, more powerful storms and increased temperatures.

In addition to BP and Chevron, the complaint in New York's Southern District takes aim at ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell.

Announcing the lawsuit in a press release Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city plans to divest its pension funds from fossil fuels within five years.

The mayor is "seeking billions in the lawsuit to recoup money spent by the city for resiliency efforts related to climate change", from the major oil companies, the Associated Press reports.

"I think the significant development here is that this is the first of these cases in this a year ago that's filed outside of California", said Michael Burger, who directs the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University.

These lawsuits are not the first to be brought against fossil fuel companies for climate change, but previous ones have not been successful.

In a statement, New York City says that the money demanded by the lawsuit will fund climate resiliency measures to protect residents.

Several cases challenging individual companies based on a "public nuisance" theory have failed - including at the Supreme Court, which ruled in 2011 that climate actions by the Environmental Protection Agency in effect removed the ability to use the courts as a remedy. Let's be clear: "That's where it came from", he said.

ACCF cited a recent survey from the Spectrem Group, which found that 66 percent of NY retirement system members want managers to focus on maximizing returns and returning the city to fully funded status.

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A spokesperson for Chevron said the lawsuit was "factually and legally meritless", and that it "only serves special interests".

"We believe the risk of climate change is real and we are committed to being part of the solution".

The legal action and the divestment draw perhaps the starkest dividing line yet between NY and the Trump administration on climate change.

Department of Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Maria Torres-Springer, said, "We are leaving no stone unturned in our efforts to produce affordable housing at unprecedented levels. Our announcement sends a message to the world that a brighter economy rests on being green", Stringer said in a statement.

The mayor also announced plans to rid the city's $189 billion pension funds of fossil fuel investments. While the lawsuit will take time to resolve, the divestment option could have a more immediate impact, both on fossil fuel companies, and the inhabitants of NYC.

350.org co-founder Bill McKibben said in a tweet responding to the news that it was "One of the biggest days in 30 years of the climate fight".

The legal action comes on the heels of lawsuits filed in the last six months by seven California localities, including Oakland and San Francisco, demanding billions from oil companies in order to build higher seawalls and other climate-driven infrastructure projects.

The state of NY is suing Exxon Mobil, maintaining the company deceived investors by withholding information about the impact of fossil fuels on climate change.

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