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Oregon County Seeks Climate Change Damages from Energy Companies

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[Ed. note: Today is the 22nd anniversary of the terrorist attacks of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and United Flight 93. It is a difficult day for many, but we take this moment to remember those who died in the attacks including first responders who lost their lives years after being exposed to the toxic aftermath.]

A recent civil suit filed by Multnomah County, Oregon seeks billions of dollars in damages related to extreme heat events in 2021 claimed to be worsened by burning fossil fuels. The suit names a variety of defendants including energy companies Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and Shell, as well as consulting firm McKinsey & Company. The county argues these defendants are responsible for a substantial portion of all GHG emissions beginning in 1965. A recent Cadwalader memo discusses the suit stating:

“The county claims that these emissions were a substantial factor in causing the heat dome that occurred in June 2021 and resulted in the deaths of 69 people, as well as two similar extreme heat events in 2022 and one in May 2023. The heat dome is explained further in the claim: pollution ‘caused dramatic rises in global temperature, drought, and the drying of regional soil’ and that when those conditions met with a dense high-pressure system hovering over the Pacific Northwest, regional temperatures increased as high as 116°F/46.7°C, 40°F higher than the daily average.”

The suit is based primarily in tort law and raises claims including negligence, public nuisance, and fraud. The county alleges that the companies’ contributions to global emissions were a major contributing factor to damages they have already suffered and other damages the county argues they will face in the future, which includes $50 billion to protect the area from future effects of climate change.

The viability of this suit is currently unknown but as we endure hotter summers more frequently, suits like this may become more common. Warmer weather is impacting communities around the globe and the effects of historical emissions may leave heavy emitters footing the bill for legal defense and possibly physical damages.

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