Attorney General Becerra Files Brief in Support of Lawsuit by Oakland and San Francisco Communities to Hold Oil and Coal Companies Accountable for Costs of Sea-Level Rise

Wednesday, March 20, 2019
Contact: (916) 210-6000,

SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, leading a multistate coalition, today filed an amicus brief supporting the city of Oakland and the city and county of San Francisco in their lawsuit, City of Oakland and City and County of San Francisco. v. BPet al. The suit seeks to hold petroleum and coal companies accountable for actions contributing to climate change and the resulting harms from sea-level rise and other effects.

“Our states and local governments protect the welfare of our residents by holding accountable those who harm our communities,” said Attorney General Becerra. “Companies that reap the benefits of fossil fuels intensify the effects of global warming. We ask the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to allow our local governments to stand up for Americans who suffer the costs of climate change.” 

In their suit, the California cities and county allege that the companies’ conduct exacerbates global warming. Its impacts, including hotter temperatures, extreme weather events, rising sea level, and other irreversible harms, leave local governments to manage the full costs of inundation, erosion, flooding, property damage, and threats to the health and safety of residents. State research projects sea levels along San Francisco’s coastline will rise by as much as 10 feet by 2100. In Oakland and San Francisco, property worth billions of dollars is located six feet or less above current sea levels. In San Francisco alone, bayside sea-level rise from global warming places at risk at least $10 billion of public property and as much as $39 billion of private property.

In September 2017, the City of Oakland brought its lawsuit against BP, et al, in Alameda County Superior Court. The same day, San Francisco city and county brought their lawsuit against the oil companies in San Francisco County Superior Court. In October, the oil companies successfully transferred the cases from state court to federal court. In February 2018, the federal district court ruled against the localities requests to have their cases heard in state court. In June, the federal court dismissed both cases. In August, the localities appealed in the Ninth Circuit, and the two cases were combined. In the amicus brief supporting the localities, the Attorneys General assert that the federal district court’s decisions not to send the cases back to state court and the dismissals should be reversed.

The coalition argues that:

  • States play an important role in addressing climate change and protecting human welfare, including providing a forum to decide cases related to climate change and enacting policies and programs to mitigate its effects;
  • The Clean Air Act recognizes states’ role in reducing air pollution and does not indicate that the federal courts should have exclusive jurisdiction over cases involving climate change;
  • The defendants’ transfer of the plaintiffs cases to federal court and the subsequent dismissal of their claims were founded on an incorrect interpretation of the law and, if left in place, would unjustly deny plaintiffs a remedy for harm.

Joining Attorney General Becerra in filing the brief are the Attorneys General of Connecticut, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia.

A copy of the brief can be found here.

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