Delaware AG Jennings claims deception by big oil in climate change lawsuit


Attorney General Kathy Jennings announced Thursday that Delaware will sue 31 fossil fuel companies.

“Delawareans are already paying for the malfeasance of the world’s biggest fossil fuel companies,” said General Jennings. “Exxon, Chevron, and other mega-corporations knew exactly what kind of sacrifices the world would make to support their profits, and they deceived the public for decades. Now we are staring down a crisis at our shores, and taxpayers are once again footing the bill for damage to our roads, our beaches, our environment, and our economy. We are seeking accountability from some of the world’s most powerful businesses to pay for the mess they’ve made.”

Delaware has been hit by extreme weather that watched out approaches to the Indian River Bridge on the south edge of the state. Climate change is blamed by some for contributing to the wild weather. (State of Delaware photo).

The complaint, filed Thursday in Delaware Superior Court, asserts four state law causes of action against the defendants: “negligent failure to warn, trespass, public nuisance, and numerous violations of Delaware’s Consumer Fraud Act. It also describes the defendants’ decades-long campaign of deception, the causes and effects of climate disruption, how specific contributions to climate change are attributable to the defendants, and the injuries that Delaware is suffering as a result of their conduct.”

Shawn Garvin, Secretary of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, cited the mounting climate change-related impacts in the state and the burden it is imposing on Delaware’s environment and economy:

“Delaware and our residents are suffering from sea-level rise, increased temperatures, heavy precipitation and flooding due to climate change, and that is adversely impacting our public health, environment and economy,” said Garvin. “The science is clear that these climate impacts are directly attributable to the products produced by fossil fuel companies.”

Some of the alleged climate change impacts that are outlined in the complaint include:

  • Delaware has the lowest average elevation of any state and more than 22,000 residents are currently threatened by coastal flooding. The state has already experienced over a foot of sea level rise. That number could rise to over six feet by the end of the century.
  • Substantial flooding from climate change is expected in east and south Wilmington, an area where poverty rates reach up to 32% of the population.
  • Sea level rise will threaten over $1billion in property value, and the loss of Delaware’s beaches will harm the State’s $3.5 billion, 44,000-job tourism industry.
  • By 2050, parts of Delaware are expected to endure 30 additional days per year of temperatures with a heat index above 105°F. More than 20,000 Delawareans are especially vulnerable to extreme heat, and, due to systemic inequities, communities of color and low-income communities are particularly vulnerable to extreme heat events.
  • Extreme weather and rising seas threaten Delaware’s agriculture industry with drought, saltwater intrusion into cropland soils, and higher temperatures and changing rainfall patterns that lead to crop losses, reduced yield, and higher infrastructure, irrigation, and energy costs.

Jennings’ action is a relative rarity in Delaware. Previous attorneys general were often reluctant to file suit, perhaps due to the state’s status as an incorporation site for the world’s largest corporations.

The suit also comes in a state with its share of climate change skeptics, many of whom reside in Sussex County. Sussex is the state’s lowest-lying county and potentially the most vulnerable to climate change.

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