Supreme Court asks Biden administration for feedback on Hawaii Big Oil lawsuit

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The Supreme Court solicited the Biden administration’s views on two lawsuits by the City of Honolulu that accuse the oil and gas industries of knowingly suppressing the truth about their roles in climate change.

“The Solicitor General is invited to file a brief in these cases expressing the views of the United States,” the court wrote Monday.

The Hawaiian capital first sued several major fossil fuel companies in 2020, alleging they had created a public nuisance with their contributions to climate change and failing to warn the public about how their products would affect the environment.

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Hawaii’s supreme court had earlier ruled that the lawsuit could proceed, writing that the defendants “knew about the dangers of using their fossil fuel products, failed to warn consumers about those known dangers, and engaged in a sophisticated disinformation campaign to increase fossil fuel consumption, all of which exacerbated the impacts of climate change in Honolulu.” The defendants responded by appealing to the nation’s highest court.

The court’s request will push back its decision on whether to review the case. Justice Samuel Alito did not participate in the consideration. While the order does not provide an explanation, Alito’s most recent available financial disclosures indicate he owns stock in ConocoPhillips, one of the defendants in the lawsuits.

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Several states and localities are the plaintiffs in ongoing lawsuits seeking to hold oil and gas companies civilly liable for the effects of climate change. The Honolulu cases are the farthest along, and a Supreme Court decision on either side could have major implications for such legal arguments.

In a statement, Ted Boutros, counsel for Chevron Corporation, said “the Hawaii Supreme Court’s decision flatly contradicts U.S. Supreme Court precedent and federal circuit court decisions, including the Second Circuit which held in dismissing New York City’s similar lawsuit, ‘such a sprawling case is simply beyond the limits of state law.’ These meritless state and local lawsuits violate the federal constitution and interfere with federal energy policy.”

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The Hill has reached out to the other defendants in the case—Sunoco, Aloha Petroleum, Marathon Petroleum, ExxonMobil, Shell, BHP, BP and ConocoPhillips — and attorneys representing Honolulu for comment.

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