Attorney General Becerra Supports State of Rhode Island in its Lawsuit to Hold Big Oil Accountable for Costs of Climate Change

Friday, January 3, 2020
Contact: (916) 210-6000,

SACRAMENTO - California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, co-leading a coalition of 13 states, filed an amicus brief supporting the State of Rhode Island in its lawsuit State of Rhode Island v. Shell Oil Products Company LLC et al. In the lawsuit, the state seeks to hold oil companies accountable for their actions contributing to climate change and the resulting harms from sea-level rise, changes to the hydrologic cycle, and increased air and ocean temperatures.

“Corporations promoted the use of fossil fuels that accelerate climate change and hurt our coastal states. We support Rhode Island’s action to hold Big Oil accountable for its role in causing our climate crisis and for the costs of cleaning up the damage,” said Attorney General Becerra. “For the sake of our communities’ and our children’s futures, we cannot let polluters off the hook.”

In its suit, Rhode Island alleges that the major fossil fuel producing companies knowingly contributed to climate change and failed to warn regulators and the public about the harms of fossil fuel use. Instead, these companies promoted pseudo-scientific theories and questioned legitimate climate science in order to confuse the public and maintain their profits. The complaint argues that Big Oil should be liable for infrastructure-related damages resulting from their actions.

The case is currently pending in the First Circuit after the oil companies appealed a district court decision that the lawsuit belongs in the state court. In the brief, the coalition asserts that the district court decision should be affirmed. 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;
  • The Clean Air Act recognizes states’ roles in reducing air pollution and does not indicate that the federal courts should have exclusive jurisdiction over cases involving climate change; and
  • The defendants’ appeal to transfer the plaintiffs’ claims to federal court, knowing that similar claims have been displaced by Congress, could unjustly deny plaintiffs a remedy for harm.

Attorney General Becerra has filed similar briefs in support of local governments seeking to hold oil companies accountable including: a brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in support of the mayor and city council of Baltimore in their lawsuit Mayor and City Council of Baltimore v. BP, et al.; a brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in support of 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. BP, et al.; a brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in support of the counties of Marin, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, and the cities of Imperial Beach, Richmond, and Santa Cruz in their lawsuit, County of San Mateo et al. v. Chevron Corporation; and a brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in support of New York City in its lawsuit, City of New York. v. Chevron Corporation, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil Corporation, Royal Dutch Shell PLC, BP PLC.

Joining Attorney General Becerra and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey in filing the brief are the attorneys general of Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington.

A copy of the brief can be found here

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