Watch CBS News

Annapolis Files Lawsuit Against Big Oil Companies For The Costs Of Climate Change

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ) -- Annapolis is no stranger to flooding and it has long had to deal with the effects of rising sea levels.

Now, the city has filed a lawsuit against big oil companies to try to hold them accountable for the costs of climate change.

In 2019, City Dock in Annapolis flooded 65 times, causing businesses to close and making it hard for people to get around.

"It comes up out of the drains and floods the entire parking lot," Nancy McPherson, Manager of Annapolis Marine Art Gallery, said.

"It would flood up right in front of the shop, eventually flow into the shop, and we'd have to shut down for the day," Ryan Lamy, Owner and Manager of Pip's Dock Street Dogs, said.

The city says studies predict Annapolis could see 350 flooding days a year by 2040.

That's why the city is starting to work on flood mitigation projects, like the $65 million raising of City Dock.

It's money they say they're forced to spend because of the actions of fossil fuel companies and now they're suing them.

"Our lawsuit seeks to take them to court to get a jury to hold them accountable for the sums that we've been having to pay to deal with climate change," Michael Lyles, City of Annapolis attorney, said.

Filed in Maryland circuit court in Anne Arundel County last month, the city alleges private and public nuisance, negligence, failure to warn, trespass and violations of Maryland's Consumer Projection Act against 26 companies, including ExxonMobil, Shell and Chevron.

They claim for years the companies have known about the consequences of climate change, but didn't act.

"Our lawsuit will show that their own scientists warned them back in the 60s and 70s about these impacts," Lyles said.

The city says it needs this money to fund projects to help with the impact of flooding.

"Without the money to help us with these impacts, we face a bleak future," Lyles said.

In a statement, ExxonMobil said that legal proceedings like this waste millions of taxpayer dollars and do nothing to advance meaningful actions that reduce the risk of climate change. They also call the claims baseless and without merit.

The full statement reads:

"Legal proceedings like this waste millions of dollars of taxpayer money and do nothing to advance meaningful actions that reduce the risks of climate change. ExxonMobil will continue to invest in efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while meeting society's growing demand for energy. We believe the claims are baseless and without merit. We look forward to defending the company in court."

It may take five to seven years for this case to get to court, but the city is moving now with the flood migration projects.

The city is working with Sher Edling LLP as outside counsel, on a contingency fee basis so there are no out-of-pocket costs to city taxpayers.

Chevron also responded to the lawsuit, calling it frivolous:

"The lawsuit filed by the city of Annapolis, Maryland is the latest in a series of frivolous lawsuits brought by the same private plaintiffs' lawyers. These lawsuits are legally baseless and the courts have repeatedly rejected this kind of litigation. Energy companies and their products are vital to national security and the global economy. Suits like this serve only to divert attention and resources away from the collaborative, international efforts that are critical to continuing to develop responses to climate change. Chevron will continue working with other stakeholders in the public and private sectors to seek to advance real solutions to the challenges of the global energy transition."

Shell also responded to WJZ's request for comment with a statement:

"The Shell Group's position on climate change has been a matter of public record for decades. We agree that action is needed now on climate change, we fully support the need for society to transition to a lower-carbon future and we're committed to playing our part by addressing our own emissions and helping customers to reduce theirs. As the energy system evolves, so will our business, to provide the mix of products that our customers need and extend the economic and social benefits of energy access to everyone."

"Addressing a challenge as big as climate change requires a truly collaborative, society-wide approach. We do not believe the courtroom is the right venue to address climate change, but that smart policy from government, supported by inclusive action from all business sectors, including ours, and from civil society, is the appropriate way to reach solutions and drive progress."

The American Petroleum Institute also issued a statement to WJZ from its senior vice president and chief legal officer Paul Alfonso:

"The record of the past two decades demonstrates that the industry has achieved its goal of providing affordable, reliable American energy to U.S. consumers while substantially reducing emissions and our environmental footprint. Any suggestion to the contrary is false."

BP did not respond to a request for comment.

Get alerts from WJZ first! Follow WJZ on Facebook and download the app.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.