Chicago, the Latest City Suing Oil Companies for Climate Change Impact

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson announced February 20th that the City of Chicago is suing six oil and gas corporations and their largest trade association for deceiving Chicago consumers about the climate dangers associated with their products.  Filed in the Circuit Court of Cook County, the complaint names BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, Phillips 66, Shell, and the American Petroleum Institute as Defendants. 

Investments to accelerate neighborhood-level resilience and climate mitigation in Chicago

Chicago, like cities worldwide, must confront the realities of a changing climate and the impacts those changes will have on society’s most vulnerable communities. The City, recognized as the best big city in the US for the 7th time, is proud to announce a suite of environmental justice and climate investments that will set us on a course toward a just, resilient, and sustainable future. The City of Chicago is investing $188,000,000 in a variety of climate and environmental projects that advance Mayor Lightfoot’s Green Recovery Agenda. The investments will accelerate neighborhood-level resilience and climate mitigation while driving equitable co-benefits for the communities that need them most.
Back in 2022, Chicago’s new climate goals set a course to reduce the city’s carbons emissions 62% by 2040. Anchored in values of economic inclusion and savings, pollution burden reduction, and equitable access to critical infrastructure and community health and resilience, the 2022 CAP prioritizes delivering meaningful community benefits and system improvements as the City continues to lead on climate.
Big companies residing in Chicago have also been self-regulating about their impact on the environment. Although the City of Chicago granted permission to demolish the Thompson Center last October, Google is striving to maintain the building’s unique form and is working with the original architecture firm JAHN on the building’s multi-million dollar redesign.To achieve Google’s carbon-free aims, the building’s facade and internal systems will have to be completely replaced.

Serious consequences of the climate instability demand accountability

In regards to the present complaint, Chicago Mayor mentioned some local recent serious consequences of the climate instability, saying these are severe and the costs of surviving them are high. 

“There is no justice without accountability,” said Mayor Johnson. “From the unprecedented poor air quality that we experienced last summer to the basement floodings that our residents on the West Side experienced, the consequences of this crisis are severe, as are the costs of surviving them. That is why we are seeking to hold these Defendants accountable.” 

 The complaint details the history of Defendants’ knowledge and deception around their products’ role in causing climate change and alleges ten separate causes of action, including: Failure to Warn, Negligence, Public Nuisance, Civil Conspiracy, Unjust Enrichment, and violations of Chicago’s municipal codes concerning Consumer Fraud and Misrepresentations in Connection with Sale or Advertisement of Merchandise. 

“Evidence shows that these Defendants intentionally misled Chicago residents about the climate change-related dangers associated with their oil and gas products.  If unabated, climate change could result in catastrophic impacts on our city,” said Corporation Counsel Mary Richardson-Lowry. “We bring this lawsuit to ensure that the Defendants who have profited from the deception campaign bear responsibility for their conduct.”

The legal claims asserted are:  

  • Failure to Warn
  • Negligence 
  • Public Nuisance 
  • Private Nuisance 
  • Civil Conspiracy  
  • Unjust Enrichment 
  • Consumer Fraud 
  • Consumer Protection

“These companies knowingly deceived Chicago consumers in their endless pursuit of profits,” said Alderman Matt Martin.  “As a result of their conduct, Chicago is enduring extreme heat and precipitation, flooding, sewage flows into Lake Michigan, damage to city infrastructure, and more. That all comes with enormous costs. But both the facts, and the law, are on our side, and we intend to shift those costs back where they belong: on the companies whose deceptive conduct brought us the climate crisis.” 

Environment city officials support the claim

The nearly 200-page complaint details a myriad of climate change-related damages Chicago has incurred, and will continue to incur, because of Defendants’ conduct.  It seeks relief in the form of compensatory and loss-of-use damages, penalties and fines for statutory violations, disgorgement of profits, and enjoining the Defendants from engaging in the deceptive and unfair acts and practices alleged in the lawsuit, as well as associated fees, interest, and other relief as deemed appropriate by the jury at trial.  

“I applaud Mayor Johnson for his leadership in filing this lawsuit today,” added Angela Tovar, Chief Sustainability Officer and Commissioner of Chicago’s revived Department of the Environment. Science and the lived experience of our residents tell us that climate crisis disproportionately impacts under-resourced communities and exacerbates racial inequities. While we must take every action to mitigate the impacts of climate change going forward, today’s lawsuit is about accountability for past behavior, and who should pay for the dire consequences of the climate crisis that Chicago, and the world, are already dealing with.” 

Opposed counsel says the case has no merit

Phil Goldberg, special counsel to the Manufacturers’ Accountability Project, an initiative of the National Association of Manufacturers, which opposes the lawsuits, said it shares “Chicago’s desire to address the challenge of climate change, but this litigation is not the type of action that is going to lead to meaningful solutions.”

He said that Chicago’s case has no legal merit and that courts have cautioned that the judicial branch is not the appropriate place to decide climate policy.

“The challenge of our time is developing technologies and public policies so that the world can produce and use energy in ways that are sustainable for the planet,” Goldberg said. “It should not be figuring out how to creatively plead lawsuits that seek to monetize climate change, will raise the cost of energy on American families and businesses, and provide no solutions.”

Goldberg has more than 25 years of experience on liability-related public policy. He is the Managing Partner of the Washington office of Shook, Hardy & Bacon L.L.P. and the Co-Chair of its Public Policy Group. He also serves as director of the Progressive Policy Institute’s Center for Civil Justice. He authored amici briefs submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court in the 2011 climate change case Connecticut v. AEP and the Supreme Court of Rhode Island in Rhode Island v. Lead Industries Association.
Chicago is only the most recent municipality to sue oil companies, adding our name to an ever growing list of dozens of plaintiffs

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