U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Exxon's Bid to Move Minnesota Climate Lawsuit to Federal Court

(Reuters) — The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear a bid by major fossil fuel companies and an industry trade group to move a lawsuit filed by Minnesota accusing them of worsening climate change out of state court and into federal court, the energy industry's favored venue.

Exxon Mobil Corp., Koch Industries and the American Petroleum Institute had asked the justices to review a March decision by the St. Louis-based 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. That court found that Minnesota's lawsuit accusing the energy industry of engaging in decades of deceptive marketing to undermine climate science and the public's understanding of the dangers of burning fossil fuels belonged in state court, where it was originally filed.

Last year, the justices declined to consider several similar appeals, effectively sending cases filed in California, Colorado, Rhode Island, Hawaii, Maryland and elsewhere back to state court, a venue often seen as more favorable to plaintiffs than federal court.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said in a statement Monday that the decision will now allow the case to proceed toward trial in state court, and that the decision aligns with similar decisions in courts across the country.

Representatives for the American Petroleum Institute, Koch and Exxon did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Eight U.S. appeals courts have affirmed lower court decisions remanding similar climate cases to state courts, finding generally that the lawsuits exclusively raise state law claims and thus federal courts do not have jurisdiction.

The American Petroleum Institute, the oil and gas lobby group that has been accused of helping to coordinate the industry's alleged deception, and energy companies have said federal jurisdiction is appropriate because climate change is an issue of national and global importance.

The fossil fuel industry has said the lawsuits effectively try to regulate federal energy policy through state law, and that the federal court system is the appropriate place to litigate harms allegedly caused by greenhouse gas emissions, which are produced across the globe and cannot be contained within state lines.

Minnesota's 2020 lawsuit accused the energy companies and the American Petroleum Institute of knowing since the 1970s and 1980s that the fossil fuels they sold would cause climate change, but that the companies did not disclose that risk to the Minnesota public and instead actively sought to undermine climate change science. The state said the coordinated efforts to downplay the risks of fossil fuels violated state consumer protection and fraud laws, and has caused the state billions of dollars in economic damages tied to climate change.

"Taken together, the defendants’ behavior has delayed the transition to alternative energy sources and a lower carbon economy, resulting in dire impacts on Minnesota’s environment and enormous costs to Minnesotans and the world," Ellison said Monday.

The companies and the institute have denied those allegations, and told the Supreme Court in August that the case deserved to be in federal court given the state's apparent aim to seek a remedy for the impacts of a global phenomenon such as climate change.

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