The City of Santa Monica was one of a half dozen plaintiffs in a lawsuit settled on Friday, February 6, establishing “important legal precedents related to global warming,” said a statement released jointly by the plaintiffs.
The suit was filed in August 2002 by Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, and the city of Boulder, Colorado, who were later joined by the California cities of Santa Monica, Arcata, and Oakland.
Probably the most significant result of Friday’s settlement is that it preserves an August 2005 ruling in the case, in which a federal judge found that the U.S. cities suffering economic and other damages from climate change had standing to sue under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), opening up the courthouse doors for the first time to those injured by climate change.
In the case (Friends of the Earth, Inc., et al. v. Spinelli, et al), the plaintiffs alleged that two U.S. agencies – Export-Import Bank of the United States and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation –illegally provided more than $32 billion in financing and insurance to fossil fuel projects over 10 years without assessing whether the projects contributed to global warming or impacted the U.S. environment, as they were required to do under NEPA. Fossil fuel projects financed by the two agencies from 1990 to 2003 produced cumulative emissions that were equivalent to nearly eight percent of the world’s annual carbon dioxide emissions, or nearly one third of annual U.S. emissions in 2003.
“Testimony from the case,” said the plaintiffs’ counsel, “which successfully asserted that climate change is real and caused by human activities, later informed the Massachusetts v. EPA decision, in which the U.S. Supreme Court held that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are pollutants that can be regulated under the Clean Air Act.”
Under the settlement agreed to Friday, the Export-Import Bank will begin taking carbon dioxide emissions into account in evaluating fossil fuel projects and create an organization-wide carbon policy. The Overseas Private Investment Corporation will establish a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with projects by 20 percent over the next 10 years. Both agencies will commit to increasing financing for renewable energy.
The settlement, filed Friday in San Francisco federal court, “represents an important victory in the continuing campaign to hold both agencies accountable for their contributions to climate change,” the plaintiffs said.
While Deputy City Attorney Adam Radinski represented Santa Monica in the suit, the plaintiffs were principally represented by the law firm of Shems Dunkiel Kassel & Saunders PLLC (Burlington, Vermont) and Natural Heritage Institute (San Francisco, California).
Ron Shems, lead council for the plaintiffs, said on Friday, “This case was one of the very first climate change lawsuits and established the framework for other climate change cases. The claims here are no longer considered novel.”
Santa Monica Mayor Ken Genser commented, “Santa Monica has a strong commitment to protecting our environment. Our participation in this case and the important settlement that was achieved results from our continuing advocacy of sound environmental stewardship.”