Legal & Courts  June 25, 2024

Boulder’s climate lawsuit vs. Exxon, Suncor not dismissed

BOULDER — A judge has allowed a 2018 lawsuit from Boulder and Boulder County against ExxonMobil Corp. (NYSE: XOM) and subsidiaries of Suncor Energy Inc. (NYSE: SU) to move forward, setting up the possibility for a landmark trial in which the local governments would attempt to hold the oil giants accountable for environmental damage caused by climate change. 

“Boulder is increasingly burdened by the impacts of an altered climate, and our community cannot keep bearing the costs alone while those responsible avoid paying their fair share,” Boulder city manager Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde said in a prepared statement. “This lawsuit is about protecting our community from the impacts of the climate crisis, and the significance of this ruling toward that goal cannot be understated. We hope this will be a step forward for both the Boulder community and for broader climate accountability efforts.”

Exxon and Suncor had asked Boulder County District Court Judge Robert Gunning to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that the plaintiffs lacked jurisdiction and that federal regulations such as the Clean Air Act preempt state law. Gunning largely denied those requests by the defendants, neither of which immediately provided comment to BizWest on Tuesday. 

The decision comes a little more than a year after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear arguments from the oil companies that the case should be moved from Colorado to federal court. 

The 2018 complaint from Boulder and Boulder County argued that local governments “face substantial and rising costs to lessen the impacts of human alteration of the climate (‘climate change’) on their property and to protect the health, safety and welfare of their residents.”

Because of the “substantial role they played and continue to play in causing, contributing to and exacerbating climate change,” the lawsuit contends that Suncor and Exxon should pay the governments damages to mitigate increasingly frequent natural disasters such as flooding and fires, both of which have devastated parts of Boulder County in recent years.  

Attorneys for Boulder and Boulder County have accused the oil companies of repeatedly misleading the public for years about the role that fossil fuels play in climate change.  

“Plaintiffs are not trying to litigate a solution to the climate crisis, they are seeking redress for harms they have suffered and will continue to suffer,” EarthRights International attorney Sean Powers, who represents the city and county in the lawsuit, said in a statement. “The only conduct at issue is defendants’ own: what they knew, when they knew it, and what they did with that knowledge.”

A date from a trial, which could still be several years away, has yet to be set. 

The case is Board of County Commissioners, city of Boulder v. Suncor Energy USA Inc., Suncor Energy Sales Inc., ExxonMobil Corp., case 2018CV30349, filed in Boulder County District Court. 

A judge has allowed a 2018 lawsuit from Boulder and Boulder County against ExxonMobil Corp. and subsidiaries of Suncor Energy Inc. to move forward, setting up the possibility for a landmark trial in which the local governments would attempt to hold the oil giants accountable for environmental damage caused by climate change. 

Lucas High
A Maryland native, Lucas has worked at news agencies from Wyoming to South Carolina before putting roots down in Colorado.
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