Postcard from California: State takes on Big Oil for decades of climate lies

By Bill Walker

California fired its opening salvo against the oil and gas industry two years ago, with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order banning the sale of new gasoline-powered cars and trucks after 2035. In April, the offensive escalated, as the California Air Resources Board (CARB) ordered a phaseout of diesel trucks and locomotives starting in 2036. The state opened another front in June, establishing a watchdog agency to investigate gasoline-pump price spikes and recommend fines for oil companies deemed guilty of gouging customers.

Now the state has dropped its biggest bombshell yet: a monumental lawsuit against five of the world’s largest petrochemical companies for their “decades-long campaign of deception” about the harm of their products to the planet’s climate, and the disastrous and costly impacts of the climate crisis on California.

The 135-page lawsuit, filed last week in San Francisco County Superior Court, alleges that Exxon Mobil, Shell, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and BP (formerly British Petroleum) knew since the 1950s that burning fossil fuels would heat up the climate with devastating consequences, but covered up the truth instead of alerting the public. The suit also names as a defendant the American Petroleum Institute (API), the industry’s trade association. The defendants are accused of fraud, negligence, product liability, false advertising and creating a public nuisance.

“Oil and gas companies have privately known the truth for decades — that the burning of fossil fuels leads to climate change — but have fed us lies and mistruths to further their record-breaking profits at the expense of our environment,” state Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a news release. “From extreme heat to drought and water shortages, the climate crisis they have caused is undeniable. It is time they pay to abate the harm they have caused.”