How Oil Companies Could End Up Footing Bill For Climate Disasters

For the first time, some state lawmakers are trying to turn that advanced modeling into policy.

Lawmakers Hope To Use This Emerging Climate Science To Charge Oil Companies For Disasters

A fast-emerging field of climate research is helping scientists pinpoint just how many dollars from a natural disaster can be tied to the historic emissions of individual oil companies — analysis that is the centerpiece of new state efforts to make fossil fuel companies pay billions for floods, wildfires and heat waves.

When a flood or wildfire hits, researchers in “attribution science” run computer models to help determine whether the disaster was caused or intensified by climate change.

As those models become more precise, other scientists are working to measure how specific companies, such as Exxon Mobil or Shell, have contributed to climate change through their historic greenhouse gas emissions.

This is a growing field, and it’s a game changer for addressing climate change. It has a role to play in litigation and in policy, because it gives us that precision.
Delta Merner, lead scientist for the Science Hub for Climate Litigation at the Union of Concerned Scientists

States’ climate proposals come after years of lawsuits by state attorneys general against many of those same companies. They claim the companies knew years ago that fossil fuel use was causing climate change, but misled the public about that danger. While the courtroom fights are far from resolved, some advocates think it’s time for lawmakers to get involved.

“There have been a lot of lawsuits trying to get these companies to pay for some damages, and the industry’s message has been, ‘This is a task for legislatures, not the courts,’” said Justin Flagg, director of environmental policy for New York state Sen. Liz Krueger, a Democrat. “We are taking up that invitation.”

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