Charleston suing oil companies, claiming ‘intentional deception’ to blame for flooding

RAW VIDEO: Charleston suing oil companies, claiming ‘intentional deception’ to blame for flooding

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The City of Charleston is suing 24 fossil fuel companies for costs related to flooding, Mayor John Tecklenburg said at a Wednesday afternoon news conference at the Battery.

“We are filing lawsuit today against Big Oil,” Tecklenburg said. “And the reason is they have contributed through an intentional deception to change the story of the impact of the burning of fossil fuels on climate change on this planet. So, I feel it’s not fair to the citizens in Charleston, to have to bear the burden.”

The suit alleges six causes of action, including public and private nuisance, strict liability and negligent failure to warn, trespass, and violations of South Carolina’s Unfair Trade Practices Act.

The companies named in the lawsuit include Exxon Mobil Corporation, Royal Dutch Shell plc, Shell Oil Company, Chevron Corporation, BP America, Hess Corporation, ConocoPhillips, Murphy Oil and others.

“As this lawsuit shows, these companies have known for more than 50 years that their products were going to cause the worst flooding the world has seen since Noah built the Ark,” Tecklenburg said. “And instead of warning us, they covered up the truth and turned our flooding problems into their profits. That was wrong, and this lawsuit is all about holding them accountable for that multi-decade campaign of deception.”

The lawsuit details examples from defendants' decades-long campaign to deceive the public, press, and policy makers about the harm the defendants knew would occur from the use of their products. The complaint also details the resulting impacts that Charleston is currently enduring, including:

  • The frequency of flooding events has increased substantially in Charleston, from around four days per year around 50 years ago to nearly 89 days per year as of 2019.
  • The City has incurred significant costs on capital projects to address sea level rise, including, but not limited to, by rebuilding its aging Low Battery Seawall to account for sea level rise projections, installing check valves to prevent tidal intrusion on the City’s storm drain system, and redesigning and retrofitting its floodwater drainage system to keep up with increased flooding caused by sea level rise, including by constructing over 8,000 feet of new drainage tunnels.
  • The City is expected to endure 30 additional days per year of temperatures higher than 95°F by 2070. Due to systemic inequities, people of color and those living in poverty tend to be particularly vulnerable to extreme heat events.

Charleston is the first city in the American South, and the 21st community nationwide, to hold fossil fuel companies accountable for climate change deception, impacts, and costs.

Tecklenburg said the case is being handled on a contingent basis and that there would be no direct expense to the city until there is a successful outcome.

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