In a first at the state level, the City of Hoboken, New Jersey recently added racketeering charges to its climate lawsuit against major petroleum producers and their national trade group the American Petroleum Institute (API). Hoboken is making this claim against fossil fuel companies under the state-level equivalent of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, a federal law used successfully to prosecute organized crime groups such as the Mafia starting in the 1970s and later the tobacco industry. Puerto Rico lodged federal racketeering charges against the industry in a class action climate case last November.
“These racketeering cases should be viewed as a new legal front against the oil and gas industry,” Richard Wiles, president of the Center for Climate Integrity, which advocates for climate accountability from polluters, said by email.
Including a racketeering charge in these lawsuits helps “tell a more robust and full story of what was really happening,” said Delta Merner, a scientist working on climate litigation at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “There really were coordinated efforts to systematically question and cast doubt on the science around climate change.”