March 21, 2018 / 11:00 AM / 4 months ago

U.S. judge to question Big Oil on climate change

SAN FRANCISCO, March 21 (Reuters) - Five of the world’s biggest energy producers will be questioned by a federal judge on Wednesday about climate change science, part of a lawsuit that accuses the companies of misleading the public for years about their role in global warming.

The cities of San Francisco and Oakland, California sued Chevron Corp, Exxon Mobil Corp, ConocoPhillips , Royal Dutch Shell PLC, and BP PLC last year, seeking an abatement fund to help the cities address flooding they say is a result of climate change.

The companies argued in legal filings on Tuesday that the case in San Francisco federal court should be dismissed, partly because Congress has given regulatory agencies, not the courts, authority over the production and emission of fossil fuels.

The lawsuits, filed by Democratic Party politicians, are part of a larger campaign to address climate change in the courts. Worldwide, there are almost 900 lawsuits on climate change in 25 countries, a U.N. study said last year.

U.S. District Judge William Alsup invited both sides to a hearing on Wednesday to describe their views on “the best science now available on global warming, glacier melt, sea rise, and coastal flooding.”

Since U.S. President Donald Trump took office 14 months ago, domestic policy on climate change has been turned on its head. Republican Trump has pushed to increase production of fossil fuels and ordered a broad reversal of climate regulations. He said last year that he was withdrawing the United States from the Paris Agreement to reduce emissions but Washington has not disengaged from it completely.

Alsup, who has presided over high profile technology cases including one between Alphabet’s Waymo and Uber Technologies Inc over self-driving cars, is known to ask blunt questions from the bench.

Chevron attorney Avi Garbow on Tuesday told reporters the company will tell the judge it agrees with the scientific consensus that it is extremely likely human influence is the cause of warming. It is unclear whether the other companies will agree with that view.

Representatives for the other four companies could not immediately be reached.

All of the oil companies generally acknowledge that greenhouse gasses are a contributor to climate change. However, the companies argued in court papers on Tuesday that they should not be held liable for global warming, which is caused by “billions” of parties and “complex environmental phenomena occurring worldwide over many decades.” (Reporting by Dan Levine; editing by Grant McCool)

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