NYC pairs a climate change lawsuit with plans for divestment from pension funds.
Legal Insurrection readers may recall that last fall, San Francisco and Oakland filed separate lawsuits against five oil companies, asking for billions of dollars to protect against rising sea levels they blamed on climate change.
These lawsuits followed those of California’s Marin and San Mateo counties, as well as the San Diego County city of Imperial Beach, which target individual corporations for their alleged contribution to supposed global warming.
Now, it appears the Big Apple also wants to take a legal bite out of Big Oil.
New York City’s effort to hold oil and gas producers responsible for costs related to the environmental effects of their products faces an uphill battle as it tries to stretch the current law to address climate change.
The biggest city in the U.S. sued BP Plc, Chevron Corp., ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil Corp., and Royal Dutch Shell Plc claiming they’re the world’s largest industrial contributors to climate change.
…The city is seeking to build on successful legal challenges against producers of asbestos, cigarettes and lead paint. New York is using the centuries-old legal concepts of “public nuisance” — an illegal threat to community welfare, such as a brothel, drug den or illegal hazardous waste dump — and “private nuisance,” an unreasonable interference with the use of someone else’s land.
Both theories have been used to attack polluters, though not on the scale of global climate change. The challenge will be to persuade a judge to apply well-worn legal standards to a 21st Century problem.
Dare I suggest that the lack of gasoline, plastics, and heat would constitute more of a “public nuisance” for most people than the theoretical woes of climate change, especially in light of the recent weather development?
“Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a global issue and requires global participation and actions,” Exxon said in a statement. “Lawsuits of this kind — filed by trial attorneys against an industry that provides products we all rely upon to power the economy and enable our domestic life – simply do not do that.”
And it would be difficult to seriously calculate damage caused by carbon dioxide emissions, especially in light of the fact that in 2017, 485 scientific papers were published casting doubt on various aspects of eco-activist belief.
Furthermore, city officials indicated that they would divest fossil fuel investments from its $189 billion public pension funds over the next five years.
“Safeguarding the retirement of our city’s police officers, teachers, firefighters and city workers is our top priority, and we believe that their financial future is linked to the sustainability of the planet,” Comptroller Scott Stringer said in the statement.
Between the opening of the pipelines, oil exploration and drilling expansions being approved by the Interior Department, and a business-friendly environment, oil stocks made the list of top picks for 2018. It is unfortunate that the people who will need the pension monies will be deprived of potential wealth because of political posturing.
It is also an astonishing move to make in light of the city’s looming pension crisis.
New York’s five pension funds are a combined $64.8 billion in debt, according to the city’s official numbers, which assumes that the funds will earn annual investment returns of at least 7 percent in perpetuity. Using a more realistic expectations for future investment return (3.61 percent), the Manhattan Institute report calculates that the city’s long-term pension debt exceeds $142 billion.
In the short-term, annual pension costs are hitting levels not seen since New York’s economic crisis in the late 1970s. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s $84.9 billion budget plan for 2018 includes $9.6 billion in payments to the city’s five pension funds.
It appears that for New York City officials, the loss of so much potential wealth is valueless against the need to virtue signal.
VICTORY!! New York City is divesting from fossil fuels!! This happened after years of hard work of our members and passionate advocates! It’s just the beginning! #DivestNY @350 @ALIGNny @NYCComptroller @TishJames pic.twitter.com/NUBHHXZHHf
— NY Communities (@nychange) January 10, 2018
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