NYC Suing Fossil Fuel Companies

Saul Bowman
January 13, 2018

In addition, the Mayor also announced the city has filed a lawsuit against oil companies BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, and Royal Dutch Shell, seeking damages to recoup billions of dollars which NY will spend to shield its inhabitants from the effects of climate change.

New York City has filed suit against the nation's largest oil companies - BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, and Royal Dutch Shell - for contributing to global warming.

"New York City is standing up for future generations by becoming the first major US city to divest our pension funds from fossil fuels", said Mayor de Blasio.

New York's goal of eliminating about $5 billion in securities of almost 200 oil companies, would be among the biggest public pension divestments from fossil fuels to date, the city said in a statement.

Though Oakland and San Francisco have filed similar lawsuits in recent months, New York City says it is the first major US pension plan to divest from fossil fuel reserve owners. "Our announcement sends a message to the world that a brighter economy rests on being green". The funds invest the pensions of hundreds of thousands of active and retired city teachers, firefighters, police officers and other employees.

The legal action and the divestment draw perhaps the starkest dividing line yet between NY and the Trump administration on climate change. "We're setting a formal goal to divest from fossil fuels", he said, before adding that any decision would take time and would need to be viewed through a "lens of sound fiscal stewardship". He will also announce that the city will divest its pension funds of $5 billion in fossil fuel investments.

Similar litigation against the oil industry has already been filed by west coast cities such as San Francisco, Oakland, and Santa Cruz, but it rings a little more tremendous in NYC.

"Although environmental issues - including climate change - are legitimate concerns, pension fund managers have a fiduciary duty to prioritize performance", the ACCF said.

In his mission to combat climate change, De Blasio has vowed to cut emissions from New York's towering skyscrapers in an effort to become more energy efficient.

The mayor's office said it needs the money to fund climate change "resiliency" to protect city property, like sewer infrastructure, and residents through things like public health campaigns. This echoes a separate investigation by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman into ExxonMobil.

It's also extremely significant that the divestment and lawsuit were announced in tandem - because they have the potential to reinforce one another in a kind of virtuous market cycle. "Now it wants the 5 largest oil companies to reimburse it for its losses and pay for the infrastructure improvements needed to protect the city from the impacts of rising sea levels and even more powerful storms in the future".

"There isn't anything you can point to and say, 'This is exactly like that case, '" Michael Burger, executive director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School, said in a Bloomberg interview. Cities like NY are now facing the very costly consequences of global inaction to reduce climate change. Let's be clear: "That's where it came from", he said. If more and more localities sue, "we might be able to see adequate pressure applied to these companies to inspire action on climate change", he said.

"The bar for being a climate leader has just been dramatically raised", author and Nation contributor Naomi Klein told the conference.

The American Petroleum Institute, the powerful oil lobby, accused NY of "deliberately hurting pension holders" by ignoring its legal responsibility of seeking the greatest return.

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