News Release
March 26, 2024
ALF Urges Supreme Court To Decide Whether Federal Law Precludes Climate Change Damages Suits

Question Presented:

Whether federal law precludes state-law damages suits filed by state and local governments against fossil fuel energy companies for the alleged local effects of global climate change
" Honolulu's complaint against the fossil fuel industry reads like a climate activist's handbook."

Atlantic Legal Foundation
State and local governments have filed dozens of damages suits in state courts around the United States collectively seeking billions of dollars from major oil and gas producers for the alleged local effects of global warming and climate change. 

The potentially disastrous national and international ramifications of allowing these proliferating suits to proceed are enormously important—not only for the defendant fossil fuel companies, but also for the nation’s economy, critical infrastructure, and national defense. The everyday lives of virtually every American will be adversely affected in numerous ways if these suits succeed in crippling the fossil fuel industry.

Case Background

The 115-page state-court complaint filed by the City and County of Honolulu against major fossil fuel producers is similar to complaints that have been filed by state and local governments around the United States. Although the complaint includes causes of action for nuisance, trespass, and failure to warn, it alleges that the defendant fossil fuel companies should be held liable for “causing global climate change and dire effects on the planet.”

The defendant fossil fuel companies contend that Honolulu’s state-law suit is precluded by federal law due to the inherently interstate nature of atmospheric greenhouse gas pollution and/or by the preemptive effect of the Clean Air Act.  But according to the Hawaii Supreme Court, “this is a traditional tort case” that should be allowed to proceed. 

The companies are seeking U.S. Supreme Court review.

ALF's Amicus Brief

Consistent with its free enterprise and sound science advocacy missions, ALF has filed an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to grant review and hold that federal law precludes climate change damages suits.

ALF’s amicus brief argues that the extraordinary subject of Honolulu’s suit—alleged responsibility for causing or contributing to global warming and worldwide climate change—is beyond the bounds of traditional state tort law. By viewing Honolulu’s suit as an ordinary product liability case, the Hawaii Supreme Court elevated artful pleading over the true nature of allegations that fossil fuel producers should be held liable for their alleged alteration of the global climate.

The amicus brief explains that there are multiple types and sources of greenhouse gas emissions, and that climate change is both borderless and indivisible. Fossil fuel companies’ alleged liability for causing global climate change cannot be fragmented into myriad state and local pieces. Allowing state courts around the nation to adjudicate climate change damages suits brought by state and local governments against fossil fuel companies likely would result in conflicting or inconsistent judgments, including imposition of greenhouse gas abatement measures, that would seriously undermine the Clean Air Act’s comprehensive federal-state regulatory scheme.

The Supreme Court should review the Hawaii Supreme Court’s ruling and hold that federal law precludes climate change damages suits.
Media Contact: Larry Ebner | Tel: 202-349-1421
About the Atlantic Legal Foundation

For more than 47 years, the Atlantic Legal Foundation, a national, nonprofit, nonpartisan, public interest law firm, has advocated in the Supreme Court, federal courts of appeals, and state appellate courts for individual liberty, free enterprise, property rights, limited & responsible government, sound science in judicial & regulatory proceedings, and effective education, including parental rights and school choice.
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