#ClimateCrisis has cost #Colorado billions – now it wants oil firms to pick up the bill — The Guardian #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Four Mile Canyon Fire September 6, 2010

From The Guardian (Chris McGreal):

Gold Hill has received a state grant to thin out the forest around the town in the hope of slowing if not stopping future fires. But that is a fraction of the cost that the surrounding county says it will take to deal with the impact of global heating.

Boulder county estimates it will cost taxpayers $100m over the next three decades just to adapt transport and drainage systems to the climate crisis, and reduce the risk from wildfires.

Exxon’s private prediction of the future growth of carbon dioxide levels (left axis) and global temperature relative to 1982 (right axis). Elsewhere in its report, Exxon noted that the most widely accepted science at the time indicated that doubling carbon dioxide levels would cause a global warming of 3°C. Illustration: 1982 Exxon internal briefing document

The county government says the bill should be paid by those who drove the crisis – the oil companies that spent decades covering up and misrepresenting the warnings from climate scientists. It is suing the US’s largest oil firm, ExxonMobil, and Suncor, a Canadian company with its US headquarters in Colorado, to require that they “use their vast profits to pay their fair share of what it will cost a community to deal with the problem the companies created”.

Boulder county, alongside similar lawsuits by the city of Boulder and San Miguel county in the south-west of the state, accuse the companies of deceptive trade practices and consumer fraud because their own scientists warned them of the dangers of burning of fossil fuels but the firms suppressed evidence of a growing climate crisis. The lawsuits also claim that as the climate emergency escalated, companies funded front groups to question the science in order to keep selling oil.

“It is far more difficult to change it now than it would have been if the companies had been honest about what they knew 30 or 50 years ago,” said Marco Simons, general counsel for Earth Rights International, which is handling the lawsuit for the county. “That is probably the biggest tragedy here. Communities in this country and around the world were essentially robbed of their options.”

Boulder county’s lawsuit contends that annual temperatures in Colorado will rise between 3.5F and 6.5F by 2050 and imperil the state’s economy, including farming and the ski industry.

Colorado River Basin map via the Babbit Center for Land and Water Policy/Lincoln Institute of Land Policy

Extremes of weather are already melting the mountain snowpack, causing increased evaporation and a shortfall in the amount of water flowing down the region’s most important river, the Colorado, which supplies drinking water to the state’s largest cities and irrigation all the way to California and Arizona…

Exxon and Suncor are alarmed at the prospect of the cases being heard by local jurors with first-hand experience of the impact of global heating in Boulder. The companies are pressing to move the trials out of state courts and into a federal system where laws on deceptive marketing and consumer fraud do not apply.

“Their strategy is to say that these cases need to be in federal court because federal jurisdiction applies. Then they will turn around and argue that federal law provides no remedy,” said Simons. “It is all about a route to dismissing these cases.”

The outlines of the oil industry’s defence have emerged in newspaper columns pushing back against any parallels with big tobacco and claiming it is the end user, ordinary Americans, that causes pollution…

Max Boykoff, a professor in the environmental studies department at the University of Colorado Boulder, acknowledged the problem, alongside the popularity of high fuel consumption vehicles. But he said that should not be used by the oil companies to absolve themselves of responsibility for a crisis they have played a leading part in creating.

“These lawsuits are one of the tools to hold both these companies accountable,” he said.

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