SAN MATEO COUNTY (CBS SF) -- Marin and San Mateo counties and the City of Imperial Beach in San Diego County filed a civil suit Monday against dozens of fossil fuel companies for allegedly contributing to sea level rise.
The suits filed in Marin, San Mateo and San Diego counties' superior courts claim that 37 oil, gas and coal companies knew for nearly 50 years that greenhouse gas pollution from their fossil fuel products would significantly impact Earth's climate and sea levels.
"Defendants concealed the dangers, sought to undermine public support for greenhouse gas regulation and engaged in massive campaigns to promote the ever increasing use of their products at ever greater volumes," according to the complaint.
The suits allege the 37 defendants are responsible for approximately 20 percent of all industrial carbon dioxide and methane pollution between 1965 and 2015.
The Marin County suit claims more than 12,000 homes, businesses and institutions could be at risk from tides and surge flooding by the end of the century, and the vulnerable properties are assessed at $16 billion.
"Sea level rise is here and we're experiencing it first hand in Marin as roadways continually flood with king tides and storms," Marin County Supervisor Kate Sears said in a news release about the lawsuits.
The cost of trying to protect businesses, homes, roads and other facilities from rising seas and more severe storms and the human anguish over those that are lost "will be shocking and crippling," Sears said.
San Mateo County is ground zero for sea level rise and the associated cost to communities already exceeds $40 million, according to the county's news release about the suit.
More than 100,000 people live in areas threatened by three feet of sea level rise and the assessed value of parcels at risk to near-term flooding in San Mateo County may exceed $1 billion, according to San Mateo County's release about the suit.
"The enormous costs of addressing sea level rise in San Mateo County should be borne by those companies that knowingly caused it, not by our local residents and businesses," Supervisor Dave Pine said.
The Marin County Counsel's Office said the suit is the first time California municipalities have filed a complaint of this kind against the fossil fuel industry, although similar actions were taken against tobacco companies for health damages caused by smoking.
The defendants include Chevron Corp., ExxonMobil Corp., Royal Dutch Shell, Citgo Petroleum Co. and ConocoPhilips Company.
The suit alleges the defendants caused a public nuisance, failed to warn the public about it, negligence and trespassing.
The plaintiffs seek compensatory and punitive damages, relief to abate the nuisance, reasonable attorneys fees, disgorgement of profits, the cost of the suit and other relief.
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