For the First Time, the Justice Department Sides with Communities Seeking to Hold Major Fossil Fuel Corporations Accountable for Climate Damages — Fulfilling a Biden Campaign Pledge

WASHINGTON, D.C. — In a U.S. Supreme Court brief filed today, the U.S. Department of Justice for the first time threw its support behind communities seeking to put major oil and gas corporations on trial in state court to hold them accountable for their climate deception and the resulting costs. 

Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar urged the high court to deny a petition from ExxonMobil and Suncor Energy that asked the justices to review lower court rulings allowing a lawsuit from three Colorado communities to proceed toward trial in state court, where they were filed. 

On the campaign trail, President Biden pledged he would direct his attorney general to “strategically support” such lawsuits, but the department had allowed its Trump-era support of oil companies to remain in effect until today. To date, five federal appeals courts and 13 federal district courts have unanimously ruled against the fossil fuel industry’s arguments to avoid trials in state courts. Last year, the Supreme Court asked the Justice Department to express its views on the matter.  

Richard Wiles, president of the Center for Climate Integrity, released the following statement: 

“By finally ending its Trump-era support for Big Oil, the Justice Department has added its voice to a series of unanimous court rulings that support communities in their efforts to hold fossil fuel companies accountable for their climate lies. 

“Big Oil companies have fought tirelessly to escape accountability for fueling the climate crisis and then lying about it, but judges have uniformly denied their pleas to escape trial in state courts. Communities in Colorado and across the U.S. have waited long enough for justice. It’s past time that Big Oil companies face the evidence of their climate lies and answer to juries in state court.” 


Background on Climate Accountability Lawsuits Against Big Oil: 

Since 2017, the attorneys general of Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont, and the District of Columbia, as well as 35 municipal governments in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, South Carolina, Washington, and Puerto Rico, have filed lawsuits to hold major oil and gas companies accountable for deceiving the public about their products’ role in climate change. 

During the Trump administration, the Justice Department often supported the Big Oil defendants in such cases, even arguing in support of oil and gas corporations before the U.S. Supreme Court in BP P.L.C. v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore on President Trump’s last full day in office. 

Background on Biden Pledges to Support Climate Lawsuits

In his 2020 climate plan, President Biden pledged to direct the Attorney General to “strategically support ongoing plaintiff-driven climate litigation against polluters.” Attorneys generalU.S. Senators, and state lawmakers in Delaware and New York have all urged Attorney General Merrick Garland to support state and municipal plaintiffs in climate accountability litigation. 

During a 2020 debate, Biden said of fossil fuel companies and executives, “If you demonstrate that they, in fact, have done things already that are bad and they’ve been lying, they should be able to be sued, they should be able to be held personally accountable…This is an industry we should be able to sue. We should go after, just like we did the drug companies, just like we did with the tobacco companies.”