The lawsuit, filed in D.C. Superior Court, alleges that the companies have known about the adverse environmental effects of their products since the 1950s. It seeks a court order for the companies to pay civil penalties, provide financial relief for consumers in the District and stop what Racine’s office asserts are deceptive campaigns.
“For decades, these oil and gas companies spent millions to mislead consumers and discredit climate science in pursuit of profits,” Racine said in a statement. “OAG filed this suit to end these disinformation campaigns and to hold these companies accountable for their deceptive practices.”
ExxonMobil spokesperson Casey Norton denied the allegations.
“This lawsuit further demonstrates the ongoing coordinated, politically motivated campaign against energy companies,” he said in an email statement. “Legal proceedings like this waste millions of dollars of taxpayer money and do nothing to advance meaningful actions that reduce the risks of climate change.”
A Shell representative similarly dismissed the lawsuit.
“Addressing a challenge as big as climate change requires cooperation between all segments of society, not lawsuits that masquerade as climate action and impede collaboration for meaningful change,” said Anna Arata, a Shell spokeswoman.
Chevron called the suit “meritless” and a distraction from “constructive efforts to address the important policy issues presented by climate change.”
BP declined to comment.
The District joins many other cities and states that have filed similar suits against the oil industry. On Wednesday, Minnesota’s attorney general sued ExxonMobil Corp., Koch Industries and the American Petroleum Institute, alleging that the companies have been deceiving the public about climate change science. Similar suits have been filed in Baltimore and Massachusetts, among other localities.
The D.C. case is built on what Racine said was a multiyear investigation that allegedly uncovered intentionally deceptive public relations campaigns by the four companies to conceal the environmental damage of fossil fuels for their own profit. The suit alleges that the companies drew inspiration from Big Tobacco by funding and promoting some of the same scientists who dismissed the connection between tobacco and cancer to cast doubt on evidence that climate change is man-made.
The lawsuit also asserts that in recent years, the companies have exaggerated their investments in green energy as public awareness about climate change has grown.
“Defendants have shifted their advertising strategies to mislead DC consumers into believing that buying Defendants’ products supports companies committed to reducing and reversing the effects of climate change,” the lawsuit asserts. “In fact, the opposite is true.”
On Thursday, Racine called attention to the danger that fossil fuels pose to residents in the District, where he said the Tidal Basin is flooding more frequently and the summers are growing increasingly hot and muggy.
“Today, scientists calculate that the world has less than a decade left to get carbon emissions under control or face catastrophic impacts,” he said. “The District of Columbia, the city between two rivers that are rising, is at particular risk.”
Mike Tidwell, founder and director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, welcomed the lawsuit as an opportunity for vulnerable communities disproportionately impacted by climate change to “finally get the legal justice they deserve.”
“The Tidal flooding, the extreme precipitation events, the changing seasons, the deforestation because of extreme weather in D.C. and the region have all accelerated,” he said. “These are real harms, real harms that the major oil producers and others are legally responsible for.”