Oil Companies Ask to Throw Out New York's Climate Change Lawsuit

(Bloomberg) -- A group of the world’s biggest oil companies asked a judge to throw out New York City’s lawsuit seeking to hold them responsible for costs related to climate change.

ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil Corp. and Chevron Corp. argued in a hearing Wednesday that the federal court in Manhattan isn’t a proper forum to regulate the global activity of the energy industry. They urged U.S. District Judge John Keenan to follow the example of other judges who have rejected similar suits.

"The only way to solve or grapple with global warming is a global solution," said Ted Boutrous, a lawyer for Chevron. Boutrous told the judge that New York’s lawyers are trying to construct "a new, extraordinary, extraterritorial tort that would regulate conduct around the globe."

The companies say questions about the effect of greenhouse gases on the environment must be considered under federal law, which doesn’t permit the type of claims New York is pursuing.

New York sued ConocoPhillips, Chevron and Exxon, along with BP Plc and Royal Dutch Shell Plc, in January, claiming they’re contributing to global warming. New York says the oil companies’ actions constitute a "public nuisance" and a threat to community welfare.

New York is using state law to sue the companies to avoid conflicting with a 2011 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court against a suit that used federal public nuisance to target five big power companies. The court found in that case that the federal Clean Air Act applied, not public nuisance law.

Matthew Pawa, a lawyer representing the city, rejected the idea that New York is trying to misuse the law to sue the companies.

"We are asking you to apply very old law to new facts," he told Keenan.

Public nuisance is a centuries-old legal concept that’s been used against threats to the community such as brothels, drug dens an illegal hazardous waste dumps. The city’s suit is also based on private nuisance, an unreasonable interference with the use of someone else’s land, and trespass, an illegal invasion of property.

Keenan didn’t say when he will rule on the companies’s request.

The case is New York v. BP P.L.C., 18-cv-182, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

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