Attorney General Frey Joins Amicus Brief in Support of State of Rhode Island in its Lawsuit to Hold Big Oil Accountable for Costs of Climate Change

January 3, 2020

AUGUSTA - Attorney General Aaron M. Frey, joining a coalition of 13 states, today filed an amicus brief supporting the State of Rhode Island in its lawsuit State of Rhode Island v. Shell Oil Products Co., et al. In the lawsuit, the state seeks to hold oil companies accountable for their actions contributing to climate change and the resulting harms from sea-level rise, changes to the hydrologic cycle, and increased air and ocean temperatures.

"The climate crisis is impacting Maine in a number of ways, from ocean temperatures affecting our fisheries to extreme weather damaging our infrastructure and costing taxpayers," said Frey. Big oil companies played a big role in creating this crisis and inhibiting an effective, evidence-based policy response. They should be held accountable for their actions.

In its suit, Rhode Island alleges that the major fossil fuel producing companies knowingly contributed to climate change and failed to warn regulators and the public about the harms of fossil fuel use. Instead, these companies promoted pseudo-scientific theories and questioned legitimate climate science in order to confuse the public and maintain their profits. The complaint argues that Big Oil should be liable for infrastructure-related damages resulting from their actions.

The case is currently pending in the First Circuit after the oil companies appealed a district court decision that the lawsuit belongs in the state court. In the brief, the coalition asserts that the district court decision should be affirmed. The coalition argues that:

States play an important role in addressing climate change and protecting human welfare, including providing a forum to decide cases related to climate change;

The Clean Air Act recognizes states' roles in reducing air pollution and does not indicate that the federal courts should have exclusive jurisdiction over cases involving climate change; and

The defendants appeal to transfer the plaintiffs claims to federal court, knowing that similar claims have been displaced by Congress, could unjustly deny plaintiffs a remedy for harm.

Joining Attorney General Frey, Attorney General Becerra, and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey in filing the brief are the Attorneys General of Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington.

Supporting documents

Amicus Brief