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Attorney General Bonta Supports Minnesota Effort to Hold Big Oil Accountable for Misleading the Public and Exacerbating Climate Change

OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today, as part of a coalition of 17 attorneys general, filed an amicus brief in support of the State of Minnesota’s efforts to hold major fossil fuel producing companies accountable for corporate fraud, deceptive trade practices, and other violations of state law. In Minnesota v. American Petroleum Institute, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison alleges that the American Petroleum Institute, Exxon, and Koch Industries knowingly contributed to climate change and misled consumers about the harms of fossil fuel use. The lawsuit argues that these companies are liable for damages, civil penalties, and other costs associated with this deliberate campaign to confuse the public and maintain their profits. 

“As the West battles record-breaking wildfires and an unprecedented drought, Californians are acutely aware of the economic, environmental, and human costs of climate change,” said Attorney General Bonta. “For decades, Big Oil knowingly wreaked havoc on our environment and deceived consumers. We stand behind Minnesota’s effort to hold these companies accountable and urge the Eighth Circuit to allow this case to proceed in state court, where it belongs.” 

Already, Americans are witnessing the catastrophic results of climate change, whether it be wildfires and heat waves; sea-level rise and precipitation changes; or other changes that affect agriculture and food production. California alone saw approximately 10,000 fires burn over 4.2 million acres in 2020 and is currently facing a drought-induced state of emergency that threatens water quality, agriculture, fisheries, and as a result the economy and public health. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently concluded, these weather events are going to worsen and “[m]any of the changes observed in the climate are unprecedented in thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of years.” In 2020 alone, there were 22 billion-dollar weather events, the most recorded since the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration began tracking the cost of these disasters. The average number of billion-dollar events since 1980 is seven; the average number since 2015 is more than double at 15.1. 

Although Minnesota originally filed its case to hold Big Oil responsible for its deception in state court, the case was removed to federal district court by the oil companies in an attempt to avoid accountability under state law. The case is currently pending in the Eighth Circuit after the companies appealed the district court decision that the lawsuit belongs in state court. In the amicus brief, the coalition argues that the District Court’s order should be affirmed because the right to remove cases is narrowly construed so as to protect states' sovereign authority to enforce state laws. 

Attorney General Bonta joins the attorneys general of Washington, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia in filing the brief.

A copy of the amicus brief can be found here.