SANTA CRUZ (KPIX 5) -- The city of Santa Cruz and Santa Cruz County announced Wednesday the filing of separate lawsuits in state court against 29 oil, gas and coal companies seeking damages related to the companies' impact on global climate change.
The jurisdictions will join the cities of San Francisco and Oakland, the counties of Marin and San Mateo, and San Diego County's city of Imperial Beach in filing lawsuits to hold specific fossil fuel companies accountable for contributing to more frequent crises like wildfires, droughts and strong storms.
The Santa Cruz County and city officials believe that the defendants have been aware of their role in extensive pollution for nearly 50 years.
The city of Santa Cruz's final complaint document states, "Defendants' historical and current fossil fuel extraction and production records are publicly available in various fora. These include university and public library collections, company websites, company reports filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, company histories and other sources."
What sets Santa Cruz County and the city's lawsuits apart from the others is that they are the first to call out not just the detriments of sea level rise, but disruptions to the hydrologic cycle caused by fossil fuel pollution.
"It's time for Big Oil, who chose profit over people and the environment, to be held responsible," county Supervisor Ryan Coonerty said in a statement. "It's time for oil companies to pay for the damage they've caused, rather than ask local residents to pick up all the costs."
The lawsuits each cite a variety of peer-reviewed studies and agencies like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA.
Santa Cruz County will be hit especially hard by 2030, when an expected sea level rise of 4 inches would put 850 buildings and assets valued at $742 million in danger, according to their lawsuit.
County officials said they have already paid hundreds of millions of dollars for planning, permitting and repair as a result of severe storms made worse by climate change in recent years. Escalating instances of wildfire are also forcing the county to prepare for higher costs of fire suppression as well as the health costs associated with wildfires.
The city of Santa Cruz's lawsuit states the city has spent millions of dollars to offset flooding and storm damage. Main roadways are a serious concern in the event of 4 inches of sea level rise since portions may need to be fortified or completely replaced because of coastal erosion.
The erosion has caused Santa Cruz to deal with significant water supply shortages and substantial wildfire risk. It is projected that heat waves, droughts and changes to the hydrological cycle will make these risks more extreme, according to their lawsuit.
The Union of Concerned Scientists, a non-profit advocate group, issued a statement in support of the latest lawsuits.
"Scientists at UCS and other institutions have shown that emissions traced to the companies named in California lawsuits have contributed more than 10 percent of global sea level rise," Peter Frumhoff, the group's director of science and policy, said in the statement.
"Now that people are demanding relief for these damages, it's up to the courts to determine how companies should pay their fair share for the harm their products have caused," Frumhoff said.
The plaintiffs filing the complaint are represented by respective county and city attorneys with assistance from the law firm Sher Edling LLP.
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