In a unanimous ruling, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has rejected a climate change lawsuit by the City of New York against five major oil companies, upholding the federal district court’s decision. The appeals court ruling held that global warming is an issue to be addressed under federal law, not state law.

New York City launched the suit against Chevron, Exxon Mobil, ConocoPhillips, Royal Dutch Shell and bp in early 2018, seeking to recover damages for the harms caused by global warming, arguing that the major fossil fuel producers are primarily responsible for global warming and should bear the brunt of the city’s $20 billion climate resiliency program.   

While acknowledging that “global warming is one of the greatest challenges facing humanity today,” the court held that cities cannot bypass federal efforts and international treaties to directly target lawsuits against the oil companies. The court also ruled that the Clean Air Act, which forms the basis for the U.S.’ regulatory framework concerning environmental issues, gives the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the authority to regulate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, rather than the federal courts.

The ruling stated:

“The question before us is whether municipalities may utilize state tort law to hold multinational oil companies liable for the damages caused by global greenhouse gas emissions. Given the nature of the harm and the existence of a complex web of federal and international environmental law regulating such emissions, we hold that the answer is “no.””

Commenting on the ruling, Chevron General Counsel R. Hewitt Pate said:

“Today’s unanimous opinion by a distinguished panel of judges appointed by Presidents from both parties explains in clear detail why the U.S. climate tort lawsuits are meritless, applying established law as agreed upon by the Justice Department under the previous two U.S. Administrations.”