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Chicago is suing five of the world’s largest oil companies for their part in contributing to climate change, which has caused flooding, shoreline erosion and other damage.

Chicago is suing five of the world’s largest oil companies for their part in contributing to climate change, which has caused flooding, shoreline erosion and other damage.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere

Chicago climate lawsuit against Big Oil moved to federal court -- for now

A City Hall lawsuit blaming five oil industry giants for climate change damage and then covering it up has been moved from state to federal court at the request of the companies.

In late March, the case filed the previous month was assigned to Judge Franklin Valderrama in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

A legal expert, however, believes the case will land back in Cook County Circuit Court where it was initially filed. The reason: Chicago’s lawsuit against five of the world’s largest oil and gas companies follows a pattern of similar complaints filed by other U.S. cities. In each of those cases, the companies argue that the case must be heard in federal rather than state courts but, on appeal, they have all been moved back to the local venues.

“This is dead on arrival in federal court,” said Pat Parenteau, professor of law emeritus at Vermont Law and Graduate School who has tracked the climate lawsuits against Big Oil.

The city is in for a long, hard-fought battle with the deep-pocketed companies, Parenteau added.

It’s unclear whether any of these cases will be successful, especially facing such large, powerful global corporations, but lawyers representing cities have pointed to the success states had suing tobacco companies in the 1990s over claims that the companies lied about the health threats from smoking cigarettes.

BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil and Shell are all named the in lawsuit filed by Mayor Brandon Johnson’s administration that accuses the companies of trying to discredit science and mislead the public on the harm that burning fossil fuels has had on the planet.

London-based BP, formerly British Petroleum, alone has a market value of more than $110 billion, which is almost the size of the economy of Kenya.

Representatives of the companies and their trade group American Petroleum Institute declined to comment. The petroleum institute is also named in the lawsuit, and Chicago accuses it of conspiring with the companies to deceive consumers through disinformation campaigns. The industry misled the public and discredited science on climate even as they acknowledged internally that the threat was real, Chicago alleges.

Chicago has suffered floods, extreme heat, shoreline erosion and other costly damages from severe weather stemming from climate change.

The companies have vowed to fight the Chicago lawsuit, claiming that it lacks merit.

A spokeswoman for the city’s Law Department declined to comment as did the city’s local private counsel Adam Levitt, a partner with Chicago law firm DiCello Levitt.

Chicago’s lawsuit is similar to others well underway in other cities and states, including New York City and California.

Contributing: Jon Seidel

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