A federal judge on Monday threw out a lawsuit brought by two California cities suing fossil fuel companies over the costs of dealing with climate change.
The judge, William Alsup of Federal District Court in San Francisco, acknowledged the science of global warming and the great risks to the planet, as did the oil and gas companies being sued. But he said the courts were not the proper place to deal with such global issues, and he rejected the legal theory put forth by the cities, San Francisco and Oakland.
“The problem deserves a solution on a more vast scale than can be supplied by a district judge or jury in a public nuisance case,” Judge Alsup wrote in a 16-page opinion. The cities had relied on the area of public nuisance under state common law, which allows courts to hold parties responsible for actions that interfere with the use of property.
Instead, Judge Alsup wrote, the issues would more properly be handled by the other two branches of government. “The court will stay its hand in favor of solutions by the legislative and executive branches,” he wrote.
A business group that has been highly critical of the lawsuits, the National Association of Manufacturers, expressed satisfaction with the judge’s dismissal of the case. “From the moment these baseless lawsuits were filed, we have argued that the courtroom was not the proper venue to address this global challenge,” said the group’s chief executive, Jay Timmons.
John Coté, a spokesman for the San Francisco city attorney, said the city was considering its options. “This is obviously not the ruling we wanted, but this doesn’t mean the case is over,” he said. “We’re reviewing the order and will decide on our next steps shortly.”
Mr. Coté added that the city agreed with Judge Alsup on one important point. “We’re pleased that the court recognized that the science of global warming is no longer in dispute,” he said. “Our litigation forced a public court proceeding on climate science, and now these companies can no longer deny it is real and valid. Our belief remains that these companies are liable for the harm they’ve caused.”