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ExxonMobil to Face Hearing Over Failure to Consider Climate Risks

oil tanker, ExxonMobil is facing a lawsuit for failure to consider climate risks (Photo via Pixabay)
(Photo via Pixabay)

“Therefore good engineering practices includes consideration of foreseeable extreme weather events such as those caused by climate change.”

A federal judge has allowed the Conservation Law Foundation to proceed with a lawsuit against ExxonMobil that alleges ExxonMobil failed to protect its facility in Everett, Mass., from “climate risks.”

The judge’s decision to allow the lawsuit to proceed marks the first time a company will face a challenge in court for failing to consider imminent danger and risks from possible severe weather events.

The decision came on Wednesday, March 13, by U.S. District Court Judge Mark L. Wolf who ruled that the majority of the Conservation Law Foundation’s (CLF) claims against ExxonMobil should proceed to hearing.

CLF’s lawsuit, filed in 2016, alleges that by failing to consider the imminent extreme weather events Exxon violated permit requirements for its oil storage terminal in Everett, Massachusetts.

The lawsuits’ claims include 10 counts describing “imminent risks” relating to climate change, extreme weather and rising seas that Exxon allegedly failed to consider.

ExxonMobil Oil Storage Terminal Puts Mass. Community at Risk

Exxon’s storage terminal is located north of Boston, along the Mystic River. The facility frequently releases toxic contaminants that are above legal levels. CLF contends that both the community and environment could be at risk in the event of a flood or severe storm.

CLF said in its  amended complaint: “The Terminal is likely to discharge and/or release pollutants into surrounding waters, groundwater, the community, and the air because it has not been designed to withstand flooding associated with storm events and storm surge, tides, sea level rise, and increasing sea surface temperatures.”

CLF President Bradley Campbell said, “Exxon has put vulnerable communities and the harbor at risk as part of its pattern and practice of deceiving regulators and the public about the risks of climate change. Exxon has known about these risks and its ongoing spills for years and is failing its most important duty under the law: to avoid spills of oil and hazardous substances that threaten public health and the environment.”

According to the lawsuit, continuous oil spills at the Everett terminal and Exxon’s failure to address climate risks at the facility are unlawful under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and the Clean Water Act.

ExxonMobil Oil Spills Case Will Proceed to Trial, Judge Rules

In November the judge held a hearing in which he dismissed some of the claims in the lawsuit and ordered the CLF to focus on the short term risks. He also ordered the parties involved to have a discussion with the Environmental Protection Agency regarding Exxon’s Clean Water Act permit for the terminal. Subsequently, CLF amended its complaint, focusing solely on short-term “climate-related hazards.”

Daniel J. Toal, Exxon’s attorney, asserted there were no facts to support CLF’s claims. He said that no severe storms have affected the terminal since the lawsuit was filed in 2016.

“CLF hasn’t alleged any imminent injury due to climate change or severe weather events,” Toal said.

Not convinced by Toal’s argument, the judge indicated the facility is in a location vulnerable to storm surge, as evidenced by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration models.

“CLF plausibly alleges that severe weather events pose an imminent risk to the terminal,” said Wolf, explaining that although Exxon’s permit does not require it to take into account “climate risk,” it does necessitate Exxon to “abide by good engineering practices.”

The judge accepted CLF’s submission that professionals who work on substantial civil works jobs customarily consider the effects of climate change. “Therefore good engineering practices includes consideration of foreseeable extreme weather events such as those caused by climate change,” he continued.

Campbell expressed his approval for the judge’s ruling: “Today’s decision brings us one step closer to safeguarding the families and businesses near the Mystic and Island End rivers, protecting the public’s investment of billions for a clean Boston Harbor, and ensuring that Exxon is held accountable for years of risk-taking and law-breaking at the expense of public safety.”

Judge Wolf set a tentative hearing date for May 14, the lawsuit can be read in full at clf.org.

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Leighanna Shirey

Leighanna graduated with a degree in English from Pensacola Christian College. After teaching high school English for five years, she decided to pursue her dream of writing and editing. When not working, she enjoys traveling with her husband, spending time with her dogs, and drinking way too much coffee.

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1 Comment

  1. Kurt March 22, 2019

    We live on a space ship called Earth. It carries us through space, and is our life support system. Most of the oxygen we breathe is made by phytoplankton. They live in the oceans of this planet. They cannot live in toxic water. With all the extra CO2 available they should be flourishing, but obviously their not.
    Oil, and the military, have trested the oceans of Earth like a huge waste dump. On top of that most of this planet is molten. The earths crust makes up a very small percentage of the total volume of Earth. By attacking the only thing that protects us from the hot lava, by mining, drilling , fraching, nuclear testing,
    and bombing our fellow human beings. We have caused the crust of this planet to get thinner, reducing the insulating properties of the crust, and adding to global warming.
    These actions are not only criminal, but their suicidal as well. It appears that all oil is interested in is money. “WHAT GOOD IS MONEY TO DEAD PEOPLE??” its not like they can buy a new Earth, and have it delivered!

    Reply

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