California Communities Confronting Rising Sea Levels Sue Fossil Fuel Companies

Breaking News! Oakland and San Francisco climate cases removed to federal court and held there.

People of the State of California v. BP P.L.C. et al., San Francisco Superior Court Case No. CGC 17-561370

People of the State of California v. BP P.L.C. et al., Alameda County Superior Court Case No. RG17875889

Breaking News! Exxon sues activists and local officials for for pre-litigation discovery.

Marin and San Mateo Cos., City of Imperial Beach Go to Court to Hold Largest Fossil Fuel Polluters Accountable

San Mateo County Full ComplaintMarin County Full ComplaintCity of Imperial Beach Full Complaint

(For a detailed presentation of the legal theories, see: SMOKE AND FUMES The Legal and Evidentiary Basis for Holding Big Oil Accountable for the Climate Crisis (2017)

(Redwood City, CA, San Rafael, CA, and Martinez, CA) – Faced with mounting costs to respond
to threats to their communities from rising sea levels, Marin and San Mateo Counties, along
with the City of Imperial Beach, today filed complaints in California Superior Court to hold
accountable 37 oil, gas, and coal companies for the ongoing harm they knew their fossil fuel
products would cause by significantly increasing carbon dioxide pollution and contributing
to global warming and sea level rise. The complaint states:

Defendants have known for nearly 50 years that greenhouse gas pollution from their
fossil fuel products has a significant impact on the Earth’s climate and sea levels…. With
that knowledge, Defendants took steps to protect their own assets from these threats
through immense internal investment in research, infrastructure improvements, and
plans to exploit new opportunities in a warming world.

Instead of working to reduce the use and combustion of fossil fuel products, lower the
rate of greenhouse gas emissions, minimize the damage associated with continued high
use and combustion of such products, and ease the transition to a lower carbon
economy, Defendants concealed the dangers, sought to undermine public support for
greenhouse gas regulation, and engaged in massive campaigns to promote the ever increasing
use of their products at ever greater volumes.

“The environmental harm these companies knowingly caused to our precious shorelines,
and the entire world, and their deliberate efforts to conceal those frightening truths,
jeopardizes the public’s health and places the financial burden of those consequences on the
taxpayers,” said San Mateo County Board of Supervisors President Don Horsley. “With this
legal action, the County of San Mateo and our partners in Marin County and Imperial Beach
are standing up for our residents and businesses to hold these companies accountable for
their emissions and lay blame where it truly belongs. The damage they’ve caused and
continue to cause is unacceptable. But the fact that they’d prioritize their bottom line over
the health and security of the public — including children — in the face of hard science is

The 37 companies named in the complaints are responsible for approximately 20% of all
industrial carbon dioxide and methane pollution between 1965-2015, according to
calculations based on a peer-reviewed methodology used to analyze the companies’ own
data. Further, the well-established body of science known as cumulative carbon correlates
these particular amounts of emissions to specific climate change impacts such as warming
and rising seas, ocean acidification and atmospheric temperature.
“Sea level rise is here and we’re experiencing it first hand in Marin, as roadways continually
flood with king tides and storms,” said Marin County Supervisor Kate Sears. “The best
available science shows billions of dollars of homes, businesses, roads and other facilities, as
well as thousands of acres of beaches, wetlands and habitat areas, are at risk from rising seas
and more severe storms. The cost of trying to protect them, and the human anguish over
those that will be lost, will be shocking and crippling.”

In Marin County, more than 12,000 homes, businesses and institutions could be at risk from
tides and surge flooding by the end of the century, with the vulnerable properties assessed at
nearly $16 billion. San Mateo County has been called ground zero for sea level rise impacts
due to the value of infrastructure and people at risk. A 2009 Pacific Institute report
calculated that San Mateo County has more at risk in terms of parcel value and number of
people than any other county in the state. And Imperial Beach, the city with the highest
poverty rate in San Diego County, expects sea level rise to flood wastewater and stormwater
infrastructure, roads, private property and two elementary schools.

“Sea level rise is harming Imperial Beach and threatening our future,” said Serge Dedina,
mayor of the San Diego County municipality. “As a low-income coastal community, we have
no capacity to pay for the adaptation measures needed to protect ourselves from these
impacts. It is unfair to force citizens, business owners and taxpayers to fend for ourselves
when the source of the problem is so clear. It is more critical than ever that we hold those
corporate polluters accountable.”

The plaintiffs filing this complaint are represented by their respective county and city
attorneys, and assisted by outside counsel from Sher Edling, LLP