October 4, 2023

The Supreme Court on Monday gave fossil fuel companies a victory in a major climate change case, but gave the industry far less than it asked for.

The ruling in the case did not address the grounds of the lawsuit Baltimore filed to try to compel fossil fuel companies to bear the costs of tackling climate change. Instead, the judges focused on narrow questions regarding the rules for appealing to lower court decisions that refer cases to state courts.

In a 7-1 ruling, the Supreme Court sent the case back to the fourth circuit appeals court on Monday to reconsider the industry’s request to review a lower court ruling to try the case in state courts.

The question of whether to try these cases in a federal or state court has been a major controversy in about 20 similar cases filed across the country.

The question of whether to try these cases in a federal or state court has been a major controversy in about 20 similar cases filed across the country.

The fossil fuel companies prefer the federal courts. This is in part because state and federal laws tend to treat cases that depend on the General Harassment Act differently. In a unanimous ruling by the Supreme Court in 2011, it was determined that in federal cases, the federal clean air law applies in such cases and the jurisdiction is transferred to the Environmental Protection Agency.

But plaintiffs like Baltimore have argued that state laws should take precedence. You can also consider the local dishes as a friendlier venue.

As the companies won the day, “it was a bullet Baltimore dodged,” said Patrick Parenteau, an environmental law expert at Vermont Law School. “The oil companies were looking for a kill shot,” he said, in which the judges would vote to kick the Baltimore case and the rest out, or at least use the language in the decision, which would send a message to the lower court that the Cases would receive a skeptical hearing at the Supreme Court level.

Instead, Judge Neil M. Gorsuch’s opinion focused on the narrow procedural issues.

Baltimore filed its lawsuit in July 2018, arguing that the company’s “production, promotion and marketing of fossil fuel products, while concealing the known dangers of these products and advocating anti-science campaigns” had harmed the city. The lawsuit found Baltimore “particularly vulnerable to sea level rise and flooding” and has spent “significant resources” on planning and managing global warming. The case cited the costs of health-related problems related to climate change, including increased hospitalization rates in summer.

Appeal courts have traditionally been unable to review a decision referring cases to a state court, except in various narrow exceptions. The courts disagree on how comprehensive the review of such a decision can be.

In the BP PLC v Baltimore Mayor and Councilor, No. 19-1189, the fossil fuel companies sought a full review of the issues in the decision to take the case to a state court. The city called for a strict interpretation of the rules of appeal so that the case could be heard in state courts. The majority of the courts ruled that the appeals court should not be unduly restricted in examining questions.

The lone dissident Judge Sonia Sotomayor said fossil fuel companies had used what amounts to procedural dexterity to bypass the normal limits of review for an appeal decision. The new decision, she warned, would open the federal appeals process to the art of gaming and allow the parties to make “almost frivolous arguments” to open a back door to the appeal.

Judge Gorsuch denied such concerns, saying the legislature can address any issues that arise. “Congress can of course revise its work at any time,” he wrote. “But this forum, not this one, is the place for such legislation.”

Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. did not participate in the decision; He owns shares in companies involved in the case. Proponents of the plaintiffs in this and similar cases have suggested that Justice Amy Coney Barrett should retire over family ties to the oil industry. Your vote with the 7-1 majority did not affect the outcome of Monday’s decision.

Sara Gross, director of affirmative litigation in Baltimore in the city’s legal department, said in a statement, “While this is not the outcome we want, we are fully confident that the city will prevail if the remaining questions will be examined by the city council of appeals court. “

Phil Goldberg, special adviser to the Manufacturers’ Accountability Project, an industry-friendly group, said in a statement that the decision “should stop these efforts by Baltimore and other communities to circumvent federal law and undermine national efforts to combat climate change through broad public policy , Innovation and collaboration. “Local courts are not the right place to solve“ this important global challenge ”.

In their contradiction, Justice Sotomayor brought their reasoning back to the city and its problems. The court, she said, opens up new avenues for appeal and delay. “In the meantime,” she wrote, “Baltimore, which has waited nearly three years for litigation to begin, will have to wait again.”