Marin County sues fossil fuel giants for sea-level rise damages

07/20/2017

Marin County has joined two other jurisdictions in filing complaints in California Superior Court to hold 37 oil, gas and coal companies accountable for the greenhouse gas pollution caused by their fossil fuel products. Marin joins San Mateo County and the City of Imperial Beach in suing Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP, Shell and 33 other companies, arguing that they’ve known for nearly 50 years that their products would lead to sea-level rise and coastal flooding but concealed the dangers and sought to undermine public support for greenhouse gas regulation. The 37 companies are responsible for approximately 20 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions and methane pollution between 1965 and 2015, according to the complaint. The lawsuit was filed a month after Marin released its BayWAVE Vulnerability Assessment, which estimated that $15.5 billion in assessed property is endangered by rising the ocean and bay waters. In the next 15 years,  the complaint states, “Marin’s coastline will endure multiple significant impacts from sea-level rise. Beaches, marshlands, rocky intertidal habitat and other ecological features in Stinson Beach, Bolinas, Tomales Bay and Muir Beach are at risk of erosion, flooding and saltwater intrusion.” A separate report released by the county last month estimated the price of a tidal gate for Bolinas and Stinson Beach at $200 million, while wetland enhancement could cost $20,000 per acre. Brian Case, deputy counsel for the county, said the three jurisdictions will be represented by their respected counsels as well the San Francisco-based Sher Edling, LLP. “The main idea here is these companies knowingly created a nuisance,” Mr. Case said. “We’re simply asking that these companies take responsibility for the cost of sea-level rise. And we’re also asking for punitive damages. Those damages will be proven at trial.” The suit also asks for compensatory damages, relief to abate the nuisance, reasonable attorneys fees, disgorgement of profits, the cost of the suit and other relief. John Beiers, county counsel for San Mateo, said both counties are among the more vulnerable in the state. “There’s already multimillion-dollar damage and either the taxpayers have to fund all the infrastructure changes that need to be made, or we can hold these companies [accountable],” he said. “We think we’re really going to prove that, like the tobacco companies, they’ve known for a long time that their products would cause damage.”