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16 Puerto Rico towns join $100B suit against big oil, coal co.’s


Sixteen Puerto Rico municipal governments have joined a class action lawsuit against fossil fuel companies for their alleged role in the deadly 2017 hurricane season that devastated the Commonwealth, “causing billions in damages and leaving thousands dead.”

The claim filed last week by law firm Milberg Coleman Bryson Phillips Grossman LLC names Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, BP, ConocoPhillips, and Arch Coal as defendants, who allegedly “worked together to publicly conceal the climate risk changes of their products while internally acting on climate science to safeguard their own assets.”

The towns of Bayamón, Caguas, Loíza, Lares, Barranquitas, Comerío, Cayey, Las Marías, Trujillo Alto, Vega Baja, Añasco, Cidra, Aguadilla, Aibonito, Morovis, and Moca seek to recover damages from the defendant oil and coal companies for 2017 storm losses, including social, educational, and economic losses.

“Puerto Rico was hit by the perfect storm and is the ultimate victim of global warming,” said Milberg Partner Marc Grossman. “This is an opportunity to finally get justice for all that Puerto Rico sacrificed in 2017.”

The law firm stated that climate scientists “overwhelmingly agree that anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, primarily in the form of CO2, are the main driver of global warming and sea level rise. From 1965 – 2017, the defendant oil and coal companies were responsible for 40.01% of all global industrial GHG emissions.”

“The defendants knew since the 1970s that these emissions were likely to produce stronger storms that threatened their infrastructure, internal documents show. But instead of transparency, the defendants engaged in a pseudo-scientific campaign to sow doubt about climate change and protect their monopoly over fossil fuel production. Their failure to disclose the truth about their products had disastrous effects for Puerto Rico, which was defenseless against the historically strong hurricanes that hit the island in 2017,” the lawyers stated.

The Global Climate Risk Index 2020 report found Puerto Rico has been affected by climate change more than anywhere else in the world. As the canary in the coalmine for GHG-driven global warming, Puerto Rico can serve as a bellwether for successful oil and coal climate change litigation

“While Puerto Rico is the ultimate victim and the first victim, it is not the last,” said Grossman. “We are investigating claims by municipalities all over the world coming to the realization that they, along with the rest of the planet, were duped by the fossil fuel industry and now live in grave danger of being the next Puerto Rico.” 

To date, climate change litigation against fossil fuel companies has stalled in courts, in part because cases have been based on causes of action preempted by federal law, including the Clean Air Act.

However, this lawsuit — based on consumer fraud, racketeering, antitrust, products liability, nuisance, and failure to warn claims — alleges that the defendants conspired to sell their products in violation of federal and Puerto Rico statutes.

The case is supported by research from leading universities, professors, and organizations in the field of climate science and sets a new standard for these claims.

Milberg Coleman Bryson Phillips Grossman LLC has taken part in major lawsuits in the past, including the opioid and tobacco litigations.

In an interview with News is my Business, Bayamón Mayor Ramón Luis Rivera confirmed that the municipal government opted into the case against the fossil fuel companies “because it serves to create global awareness because as litigations are conducted and these companies lose, they have to assume their responsibilities and adjust the way they do business.”

If the towns win the case, Bayamón will use the settlement it receives to pay for renewable energy projects currently underway — like the conversion of traffic lights to run on solar power — and future projects, Rivera said.

“We have projects through which we want to continue expanding energy production with renewable sources so that the footprint that humans leave is as small as possible,” he said.

Even if the case against the fossil fuel companies is lost, Rivera said Bayamón has the budget for its renewable energy projects.

Caguas Mayor William Miranda-Torres confirmed that any settlement money received would be “mainly invested in solar energy projects for community and municipal facilities, as well as roads.”

Author Details
Author Details
Business reporter with 30 years of experience writing for weekly and daily newspapers, as well as trade publications in Puerto Rico. My list of former employers includes Caribbean Business, The San Juan Star, and the Puerto Rico Daily Sun, among others. My areas of expertise include telecommunications, technology, retail, agriculture, tourism, banking and most other segments of Puerto Rico’s economy.

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