The state is going after five oil companies – ExxonMobil, Shell Oil, Chevron, BP and ConocoPhillips – for their role in the climate crisis
New Jersey has joined the ranks of Rhode Island, Delaware, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Vermont as the latest state to sue some of the world’s largest oil companies for their role in delaying climate policy and increasing the climate impacts, risks and costs borne by state governments. Like Minnesota and the District of Columbia before it, New Jersey has also included the industry’s top US trade group, the American Petroleum Institute, in its suit, which includes not only liability, but also fraud claims against five oil majors: ExxonMobil, Shell Oil, Chevron, BP and ConocoPhillips.
Some two dozen climate liability suits have been making their way through the courts since 2015, bolstered by media investigations and attribution studies that are able to accurately pinpoint the precise contribution climate change has made to the damages inflicted by extreme weather events. A 2021 study in the journal Nature, for example, found that just over $8bn (£7bn) of the $62.7bn (£55.3bn) in damages caused by Superstorm Sandy across New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, is attributable to sea-level rise caused by climate change.
Patrick Parenteau, professor and senior fellow for climate policy at Vermont Law School says that while these cases started as common law nuisance claims – these companies created the nuisance of climate change, which caused financial damages to various cities and states – they “have evolved to where the failure-to-warn based claims and duty of care type claims are coming to the forefront”, which is why the more recently filed cases all tend to include fraud claims as well. The damages and the fraud go hand in hand, the argument goes. The costs of dealing with climate change today are measurably higher because oil companies, aided by the American Petroleum Institute in this case, misled the public about climate change.