Supreme Court Asks for Biden Administration Input on Big Oil Accountability Case

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Supreme Court Asks for Biden Administration Input on Big Oil Accountability Case

The Supreme Court has thrown a small wrench in the works of a highly anticipated climate change case, requesting in a single-lined order on Monday that the Solicitor General submit a brief “expressing the views of the United States.” The move, though it will delay the case’s progress, suggests the Court is at very least entertaining the idea of taking up Sunoco v. Honolulu and related cases — which is bad news for state and city attempts to make Big Oil pay.

The request comes as the oil industry engages in an unprecedented influence campaign to try and stave off Honolulu’s case. “I have never, ever seen this kind of overt political campaign to influence the court like this,” Patrick Parenteau, an emeritus law professor and senior fellow of climate policy at Vermont Law School, told The Guardian earlier this week. Op-eds in major publications have been popping up repeatedly in recent days arguing in support of Big Oil, including at Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal (the latter co-authored by torture memo writer John Yoo).

At issue here is whether state and local governments have the authority to hold fossil fuel companies accountable for deceptive practices over the course of decades, as their products worsened climate change. (The Supreme Court’s new order notes that Justice Sam Alito did not participate in consideration of this case, for unstated reasons though presumably because he owned stock in ConocoPhillips, which is involved in the cases; apparently he does know how to recuse.)

Honolulu’s case is just one of many; the worry on the industry’s part is that the Supreme Court refusing to step in would lead to a further avalanche of cases. On the flip side, if the Court intervenes and stops Honolulu’s attempt, it could effectively end the efforts from jurisdictions across the country.

“Big Oil companies are fighting desperately to avoid trial in lawsuits like Honolulu’s, which would expose the evidence of the fossil fuel industry’s climate lies for the entire world to see,” said Richard Wiles, the president of the non-profit Center for Climate Integrity, which supports climate-related litigation efforts, in a press release. “Communities everywhere are paying dearly for the massive damages caused by Big Oil’s decades-long climate deception.”

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