Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.


The best of solutions journalism in the sustainability space, published monthly.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

Jan Lee headshot

Santa Cruz County and City Join Efforts to Sue Oil and Gas Companies

By Jan Lee

Armed with new data that suggests that Central California's rugged coastline will face increasing destruction from climate change in the coming decades, the city and county of Santa Cruz are striking back.

They are joining a growing list of communities across the nation that say that oil and gas companies are largely responsible for global warming, and want legal remedies to offset climate impacts.

The suits by the city and county were filed in the Superior Court of California in Santa Cruz on Dec. 20 and lay out eight causes of action for which they say the 29 companies are responsible. The causes include the failure to warn local residents and trespassing county and city property.

"Defendants, and each of them, have intentionally, recklessly, or negligently caused flood waters, wildfires, extreme precipitation, landslides, saltwater, and other materials, to enter [the plaintiffs'] property," the suits allege.

The litigants also claimed that the "[defendants] knew or should have known, based on information passed to them from their internal research divisions and affiliates and/or from the international scientific community, that the climate effects ... rendered their fossil fuel products dangerous, or likely to be dangerous, when used as intended or misused in a reasonably foreseeable manner."

The city and county are basing their suits in part on a wide range of documents going back to the 1960s that suggest that both the US government and petroleum companies were aware of the possible implications of high-carbon emissions.

These two new suits build on several earlier attempts to recover damages from oil, gas and coal companies, by including more localized data about the environmental impacts the county is facing. By 2030, the lawsuits allege, the region could be looking at a 4-inch rise in sea level. An estimated 850 buildings and $742 million in assets could be at risk from floods in the next decade.

Chevron has called the suits "factually and legally meritless." In a prepared statement last week, it proposed that "reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a global issue that requires global engagement" and that the legal challenges "only serve special interests at the expense of broader policy, regulatory and economic priorities."

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists however, research conducted at the University of California and other institutions has already confirmed that "emissions traced to the companies named in California lawsuits have contributed more than 10 percent of global sea level rise."

Image: Flickr/Dan Dawson

Jan Lee headshot

Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.

Read more stories by Jan Lee