Pennsylvania County Files Lawsuit Against Fossil Fuel Industry for Climate Change-Related Damages


Bucks County, PA, is done playing nice with fossil fuel companies after a climate catastrophe claimed seven lives, including two toddlers. They’re suing big oil corporations like BP and Exxon Mobil, alleging they’ve been peddling “climate change disinformation,” contributing to global warming, and leaving locals to foot the hefty bill. Buckle up, this is the first climate lawsuit in a major U.S. energy-producing state, and it’s shaping up to be a ‘Legally Blonde’ vs. Big Oil showdown.

A Climate Change Lawsuit in Bucks County, Pennsylvania

In July 2023, a flash flood caused by unprecedented rainfall resulted in severe damage and loss of life in Pennsylvania’s Bucks County. Bucks County responded by filing a lawsuit against oil and gas companies including BP, Chevron, Exxon Mobil, and Shell, alleging their products and misinformation contributed to climate change.

The lawsuit seeks to hold these companies financially accountable for the climate change damage to the environment and local infrastructure, arguing these costs shouldn’t be shouldered solely by local residents, communities, and small businesses.

A 2023 study found that Bucks County might have to expend up to $955 million by 2040 on climate adaptation measures for infrastructure. The estimated total costs for Pennsylvania exceed $15 billion.

The oil and gas industry has responded to the lawsuit, stating it’s a distraction from important conversations and a waste of taxpayer resources. However, more than 30 similar climate accountability lawsuits have been lodged across the US, with Bucks County’s lawsuit being the first in Pennsylvania and the first in a major energy-producing state.

Comparisons to Other Industries

The lawsuits against fossil fuel companies are likened to those brought against tobacco and opioid manufacturers for deceptions about their products. Richard Wiles, president of the Center for Climate Integrity, argues that these lawsuits can help pay for climate adaptation measures.

As these lawsuits continue, the oil and gas industry has fought tenaciously for these cases to be considered in federal rather than state court. The Hawaii Supreme Court let a climate accountability lawsuit filed in Honolulu proceed, despite industry opposition. However, the defendants have appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn that decision.

The Future of Climate Litigation

Wiles predicts that these climate lawsuits against the oil and gas industry are only the start of what could be a long campaign using various legal strategies. Although this approach may not be swift, Wiles believes it offers the potential for meaningful results with minimal risks for local governments. He views these lawsuits as similar to those against opioid-selling pharmaceutical companies — the payouts were significant and did lasting damage to the companies’ reputations, even if they did not fully cover the crisis’s costs.

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