A California judge may have just sunk all those climate lawsuits against energy companies

DCNFTim Pearce, DCNF

SASCHA SCHUERMANN/AFP/Getty Images

A California district court ruled Wednesday that two lawsuits to hold energy companies responsible for weather affected by climate change are more appropriate for federal court.

Judge William Alsup sent lawsuits from San Fransisco and Oakland into federal court, stating that the issue at hand was outside the state’s prevue. The move, sought by defendant fossil fuel companies, may spell disaster for the plaintiffs who argued the lawsuits should be judged under California common law.

“The scope of the worldwide predicament demands the most comprehensive view available, which in our American court system means our federal courts and our federal common law,” the ruling states, according to a Manufacturers Accountability Project (MAP) press release. “A patchwork of 50 different answers to the same fundamental global issue would be unworkable.”

The venue of three other lawsuits against energy companies are currently being considered by California District Court Judge Vince Chhabria. No indication of when Chhabria’s ruling should be expected has been given. Defendant companies have indicated they will appeal a decision that places the lawsuits in state court, however, according to Climate Liability News.

MAP, an industry initiative to uncover ties between environmental activists, lawyers and public and political figures against fossil fuels, said Alsup’s ruling “is a significant setback” to the plaintiffs and a sign that the lawsuits are “a legal dead end.”

“Precedent shows that similar cases heard in federal court have been unsuccessful for plaintiffs looking to pin the global challenge of climate change on manufacturers,” MAP Executive Director Lindsey de la Torre said in a statement. “Plaintiff attorney Matt Pawa, who masterminded the lawsuit in San Francisco, has tried several such cases himself and has been ultimately turned away each time.”

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