Chevron Fights Cities’ Climate Suits With `Creative Lawyering’

If Chevron Corp. has caused climate change and has to pay for its damage, so should pretty much every company that’s ever explored for oil and gas near North America, as well as manufacturers of cars and equipment that burn fuel, plus consumers.

That’s Chevron’s response to lawsuits by San Francisco and Oakland, California, blaming “the nuisance of global warming” on decades of fossil fuel production. So Chevron and other companies named in the complaints — BP Plc, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil Corp. and Royal Dutch Shell Plc — turned around and sued Oslo-based Statoil ASA, calling it “one of many” oil producers that should help foot the bill if the industry is found liable.

Adding foreign companies to the litigation is a tactical maneuver to keep the dispute out of state court, where the cities have more favorable prospects, and force it into federal court, said Julia Olson, chief legal counsel for the environmental law group Our Children’s Trust, which isn’t involved in the case.

“The industry is grasping at straws while looking for any way out of these cases and using creative lawyering to do so,” she said. “By cherry-picking Statoil, a sovereign Norwegian entity, Chevron hopes to reinforce federal jurisdiction.”

The cities are trying to make the companies pay into a fund for infrastructure needed to adapt to global warming, like sea walls for rising ocean levels. Similar complaints were filed by at least five other California cities and counties, as well as New York City.

A federal judge in San Francisco is scheduled Thursday to decide whether the cases should stay there or proceed in the superior courts of Alameda and San Francisco counties.

Statoil declined to comment on Chevron’s tactics, with a spokesman saying he didn’t know whether his company was notified before Chevron sued it.

The cases are People of the State of California v. BP Plc, 17-cv-06011 and 17-cv-06012, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).