What does the tobacco industry have in common with greenhouse gas polluters? According to lawyer Brent Newell, the answer is conspiracy. Newell is one of the lawyers involved in the case of Native Village of Kivalina and City of Kivalina vs. ExxonMobile Corporation, et al. The “et al” part of this case is no small thing: the village is suing ExxonMobile and the other 23 largest greenhouse gas polluters in the country over their contributions to climate change, which they claim is damaging the village’s property and way of life.
During a talk and reception at my university earlier this week, Newell gave us an overview of the case. One thing that caught my attention was the case’s unexpected link to the tobacco industry. Newell’s legal team at the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment has teamed up with private sector lawyers experienced in the tobacco wars, who won their charge that the tobacco industry had conspired to prevent the public from knowing about the risks of smoking. One of the legal strategies in the Kivalina case draws on that example by claiming that the top 24 greenhouse gas polluters in the country have conspired to mislead the public about climate change. Yikes!
The case was dismissed and is now awaiting a hearing in the 9th circuit court of appeals. The judge has delayed hearing the case until the outcome of a similar case (Connecticut vs. American Electric Power) is heard by the Supreme Court on April 19th. The American Electric Power case does not contain a charge of conspiracy. What the cases have in common is a claim that greenhouse gas polluters are a public nuisance that damages the property of others.
Find out more: For some of the legal documents from the case, including the original complaint and its dismissal, see the Climate Justice page from the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment’s website.