Supreme Court sides with energy companies against Baltimore in climate lawsuit

The Supreme Court ruled Monday in favor of energy companies fighting to stay out of state court in their battle against a Baltimore lawsuit seeking monetary damages for climate change.

In its 7-1 decision, the court based its ruling on a narrow procedural matter, saying that the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals incorrectly limited its review of the district court’s decision, a ruling that nonetheless strengthened the hand of oil-and-gas companies battling a rising tide of climate litigation.

The opinion by Justice Neil Gorsuch comes with more than two dozen left-tilting municipalities and states, most recently Minnesota, suing the energy industry to pay for the alleged hit to infrastructure and public health from fossil-fuel emissions.

The pro-industry group Energy Policy Advocates said the decision “serves as another reminder of the importance of the state vs. federal jurisdictional issue in the wave of ‘climate’ litigation washing over state courthouses around the country.”

“All of these suits represent transparent attempts to manufacture state jurisdiction for a previously admitted national campaign to substitute verdicts for a failed policy agenda,” the group said in a statement.

The high court stopped short of deciding whether the Baltimore case should be heard in federal court, however, sending the matter back to the Fourth Circuit for reconsideration.

The jurisdictional issue is seen as key to the litigation, with energy companies arguing that fossil-fuel production issues belong in the federal courts while localities seek to have the cases heard in state courts viewed as more sympathetic to climate issues.

The lawsuit filed in 2018 targeted more than 20 oil-and-gas giants, including BP, Chevron, Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell, arguing that as a port city, Baltimore was especially vulnerable to rising coastal waters that the city linked to greenhouse-gas emissions from fossil fuels.

Dissenting was Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Not participating was Justice Samuel Alito.

In addition to Minnesota, which filed a climate lawsuit last week, states suing for climate-related damages are Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

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