Oregon county sues gas companies for climate change

The suit alleges that the fossil fuel producers were a "substantial factor in causing and exacerbating the heat dome, which smothered the County’s residents for several days.”


Multnomah, a county covering parts of Portland, is suing companies including Exxon Mobile, Shell, and BP for more than $1.5 billion, alleging the companies were responsible for a heat wave back in 2021. 

The suit alleges that the fossil fuel producers were a "substantial factor in causing and exacerbating the heat dome, which smothered the County’s residents for several days.”

The suit is seeking $50 million in actual damages in addition to $1.5 billion of future damages. 

During the heat wave, temperatures were recorded as high as 116 degrees. Other defendants in the case include ConocoPhillips and Peabody Energy. 

The prosecuting attorney, Roger Worthington, said, “We are confident that, once we show what the fossil fuel companies knew about global warming and when, and what they did to deny, delay and deceive the public, the jury will not let the fossil fuel companies get away with their reckless misconduct."

Worthington said that what "is new about this case... is how the leadership of Multnomah County is utilizing irrefutable climate science to hold corporate polluters accountable for their role in causing a discreet and disastrous event, as well as recent wildfires." 

Worthington alleged that global warming is "already costing Oregonians lives and treasure." He added that the fossil fuel companies have been aware of this but have "deceived" the public in their own interests with "reckless misconduct."

The Board of Commissioners, in their regular weekly meeting, declared "climate change a public nuisance" and submitted a written resolution saying as such. 

The resolution defined a "public nuisance" as "any conduct or action that unreasonably interferes with the health, life, property, well-being and rights of the members of the Multnomah County community." This includes the heat wave from 2021.

The impact of the heat wave and climate change, the resolution says, "will exacerbate pre-existing inequities in health, housing, employment, and income."

The resolution added that not only was the gradual heating related to climate change a public nuisance, but that events such as extreme "wildfires, drought, floods and storms... are a continuing public nuisance."

The resolution said that the fossil fuel industry "as early as the late 1950s was aware of serious consequences of burning fossil fuel products."

The resolution was adopted on June 22, 2023, by the Board of Commissioners for Multnomah County in Oregon. 

Other climate lawsuits have been taking place. One is taking place in Montana, where 16 people between the ages of 5 and 22 are alleging that the state government did not “maintain and improve a clean and healthful environment in Montana for present and future generations" as the state constitution says.  

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