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Posted on: October 12, 2020

Maui County files suit to hold 20 fossil fuel companies accountable for costs of climate change

Mayor Michael Victorino announced today that Maui County has filed a lawsuit against 20 fossil fuel companies for the rising costs and impacts of climate change, citing a decades-long campaign of deception deployed by the defendants to hide their products’ known dangers from Maui’s citizens and businesses to maximize profits.

“Maui County is vulnerable to rising sea levels, with four islands and nearly 300 miles of coastline,” Mayor Michael Victorino said. “We see the impacts of climate change every day with chronic drought and more intense and sustained heat waves turning our open spaces into wildfire tinderboxes. Worsening coastal erosion threatens shoreline structures, miles of coastal roads and infrastructure. Maui County taxpayers should not be left to bear the staggering costs of climate change impacts. We are seeking relief in state court to hold Big Oil companies accountable for their decades-long disinformation campaign to keep the public in the dark over the climate crisis.”

Maui County’s complaint was filed Monday in 2nd Circuit Court, asserting five causes of action. These include public and private nuisance, strict liability for failure to warn, negligent failure to warn and trespass. The complaint seeks compensatory and punitive damages, equitable relief, disgorgement of profits, costs and fees, and other relief as deemed proper by the court.

There are no upfront costs for this litigation for Maui County taxpayers because payment of legal fees to outside attorneys is contingent on receiving an award of damages through a court victory or settlement. The County’s lawsuit names as defendants some of the largest fossil fuel companies in the world, including Exxon, Chevron, BP and Shell.

“It might be a David vs Goliath case, but someone has to take a stand and oil companies need to pay for the damage they knowingly caused,” Mayor Victorino said. “Our ‘rock’ is science, which clearly shows the impacts of burning fossil fuels have led to sea level rise and other environmental impacts that will get worse, perhaps much worse, in the years ahead.”

“Similar to Big Tobacco litigation, which ultimately held those companies liable for their dangerous products and disinformation campaigns, the Big Oil companies sold products that they knew would harm the environment, with devastating effects on public resources and infrastructure, leaving local governments and taxpayers to bear the costs. With all the demands our citizens face in these times of economic, social and healthcare emergencies, it’s unjust to let the oil companies scoop up profits and avoid paying for any of the damage they’ve inflicted.”

 “We have experienced king tides, floods, more frequent and severe heat waves, large wildfires and close calls from potentially devastating hurricanes,” Mayor Victorino said. “We need to plan now to address very costly climate change impacts, such as moving roadways inland or relocating shoreline infrastructure.” 

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