June 16, 2024

SCOTUS signals potential interest in tackling key climate change dispute

The current administration has had a series of major disappointments at the U.S. Supreme Court since President Joe Biden took office, and according to reports, it could be in for yet another one in the near future.

As Fox News reports, the high court has made overtures that signal to some a potential willingness to eventually hear a case involving the state of Hawaii and oil companies officials believe should be held liable for causing climate change.

Underlying dispute

According to CBS News, the Supreme Court last week requested that Biden administration officials submit briefs outlining their views on a pair of cases in which the City of Honolulu is seeking to hold fossil fuel firms accountable for climate change impacts.

The justices spoke via a one-lined order asking the solicitor general to prepare briefs in appeals of a decision from the Hawaii Supreme Court that permitted the aforementioned cases to proceed.

Honolulu's legal action is not unlike others filed against oil conglomerates by state and local government bodies in a range of jurisdictions, complaints that alleged that the fossil fuel industry embarked on deceptive messaging that misled Americans about the dangers their products truly pose to the environment.

Upwards of 15 energy firms sought review from the U.S. Supreme Court of the Hawaii Supreme Court decision that permitted Honolulu and its Board of Water Supply to continue their case, which was first brought back in early 2020.

The Hawaii claims were grounded in state common law theories including those related to the creation of a public nuisance and failure to warn of known risks, with those acts leading to harms that include flooding, soil erosion, dangerous weather, property damage, and lost tax revenue.

Hawaii Supreme Court weighs in

The highest court in Hawaii ultimately found that the federal Clean Air Act displaced common law with regard to complaints seeking redress for interstate pollution.

It was then that the oil companies sought review from the U.S. Supreme Court and requested that Honolulu's suit be prevented from continuing.

Lawyers for the fossil fuel giants argued, “In these cases, state and local governments are attempting to assert control over the nation's energy policies by holding energy companies liable for worldwide conduct in ways that starkly conflict with the policies and priorities of the federal government.”

Briefs welcomed

In response to the entreaty, the Supreme Court asked Biden's Justice Department to weigh in on the request from companies that include Sunoco, Chevron, Exxon and more.

Though the outcome of the briefing and where the dispute goes from here are things that remain to be seen, it is certain that the Biden administration's aggressive climate change agenda could well be poised for a serious setback at the high court at some point in the relatively near future.

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