Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

May 3 2018

Lawsuit argues the companies promoted fossil fuels while hiding dangers of climate change

OLYMPIA — Attorney General Bob Ferguson joined California and New Jersey in supporting two California cities’ challenge against the world’s five largest investor-owned fossil fuel companies for their role in causing climate change.

In the amicus, or “friend of the court” brief, filed today in the U.S District Court for the Northern District of California, the attorneys general ask the court to deny the fossil fuel companies’ motion to dismiss the cities’ challenge.

“Climate change is damaging Washington’s environment and our businesses, and fossil fuels are a major culprit,” Ferguson said. “These powerful corporations must be held accountable for hiding the evidence about the harms caused by fossil fuels.”

“Cities and states around the nation – including Washington state – are directly harmed by the fossil fuel companies who have been knowingly polluting our air for decades,” Gov. Jay Inslee said. “Fossil fuel companies were aware of the risks posed by their products and devoted billions of dollars to undermining the public’s understanding of fossil fuel consumption on the climate. These companies must be held accountable for the eroding coastlines, growing disaster recovery cost and other impacts that we now face due to their deception.” 

In September 2017, the city attorneys for San Francisco and Oakland filed lawsuits against BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, and Royal Dutch Shell. The lawsuit alleges the companies promoted pervasive use of fossil fuels, despite knowing for decades that fossil fuels cause global climate change. The cities argue that sea level rise and other climate effects harm them.

The companies filed a motion to dismiss the cities’ lawsuits, arguing that the complaint poses a “political question” and cannot be reviewed by the court.

The states’ amicus brief argues that the states have a particular interest in climate change, and the courts have previously ruled that the court can review these kinds of claims.

Sea levels in Seattle are projected to rise 7 inches by 2050, increasing storm surges and flooding, according to the University of Washington Climate Impacts Group. Washington experiences many negative effects of climate change, including rising ambient temperatures, a diminished and unpredictable snowpack necessary for water consumption and hydropower generation, and ocean warming and acidification, which is harmful to Washington’s shellfishery.

Protecting the environment has been one of Ferguson’s top priorities. In 2016, he created the Counsel for Environmental Protection, a legal unit led by Assistant Attorney General Bill Sherman, to protect our environment and the safety and health of all Washingtonians.

Ferguson has filed 26 lawsuits against the current administration, more than half of which relate to environmental protection. The Attorney General’s Office prevailed in all six cases against the Trump Administration that are completed. There are no more appeals in these six cases. Five of the six wins are related to environmental protection. Ferguson has succeeded in three more cases that could still be appealed. Ferguson has filed 14 amicus briefs in cases involving the federal government, eight regarding the environment.


The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.


Brionna Aho, Communications Director, (360) 753-2727; brionna.aho@atg.wa.gov