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California Backs Imperial Beach Climate Change Lawsuit

The ocean washes over rocks that are designed to keep the sea at bay in Imperial Beach, Jan. 18, 2019.
Matthew Bowler
The ocean washes over rocks that are designed to keep the sea at bay in Imperial Beach, Jan. 18, 2019.

A legal effort to get oil companies to pay for damage linked to climate change is getting a boost this week from California.

Imperial Beach and Marin and San Mateo counties filed suit, hoping to force oil companies to pay for climate change impacts caused by their products. The municipalities argue the companies knew about the climate change their products would cause.

The state is asking the court to keep the legal challenges in state court, where they stand a better chance of winning.


More than a dozen suits around the country argue the energy firms spent years denying climate change impacts they knew would happen.

RELATED: Scripps Institution Scientists Study Imperial Beach As Sea Level Rises

Imperial Beach’s lawsuit is asking oil companies to help the city pay for flood control measures that are needed because of sea-level rise.

The Center for Climate Integrity’s Richard Wiles said more than a dozen suits, including the Imperial Beach action, are asking for damages.

“We only have to win one (lawsuit) and the industry has to win them all, because once it’s established as a precedent somewhere in some court, that I think will send shock waves through the industry,” Wiles said.


Wiles said the lawsuits are modeled after litigation that was successful in the battle to get tobacco companies to pay damages for problems linked to their products.

He concedes that the individual suits are long shots, but he said the oil industry will defend the cases vigorously because they have a lot to lose.

“They are afraid that if they have to pay for the damage that their products caused to every city and municipality in the country that, that presents an enormous financial threat to them,” Wiles said.

The lawsuits seek to force the oil industry to pay for past and ongoing flooding damage. The communities argue property values are falling and lives are at risk as sea levels rise.

California Backs Imperial Beach Climate Change Lawsuit
California is asking to keep an Imperial Beach climate change lawsuit against the oil industry in state court.

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