Puerto Rican Cities File Racketeering Suit Against Oil Companies

Sixteen Puerto Rican municipalities have filed a lawsuit alleging multinational oil and coal companies conspired to deceive the public about climate change — specifically aiming to hold them accountable for the damage done by hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017.

Puerto Rican Cities File Racketeering Suit Against Oil Companies
Image credit: Reuters

Facts

  • Sixteen Puerto Rican municipalities have filed a lawsuit alleging multinational oil and coal companies conspired to deceive the public about climate change — specifically aiming to hold them accountable for the damage done by hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017.
  • In a first for a climate civil suit, the plaintiffs are using the 1970 Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act to assert that the fossil fuel industry, trade associations, think tanks, and others obfuscated the link between greenhouse-gas emitting fuels and climate change.
  • The fossil fuel companies, including ExxonMobil, Shell, and BP, are accused of formulating their plan to deceive the public dating back to the 1989 Global Climate Coalition, which the lawsuit claims bolstered the fossil fuel industry through "false information" disseminated to the public.
  • There were six major hurricanes and over 12 named storms during the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season, which caused at least $294B in damage to Puerto Rico. The alleged conspiracy by companies makes the island "the ultimate victim of global warming," according to one of the municipalities’ attorneys.
  • In the past, RICO laws had mostly been used to criminally pursue entities like the Mafia, motorcycle gangs, and international purveyors of fraud. But recently there has been more civil use of the statutes to hold corporations accountable.

Sources: Guardian, Tag24, and Reuters.

Narratives

  • Narrative A, as provided by Eco Watch. It’s going to be difficult for the fossil fuel companies to deny these charges when there’s an actual Shell internal report predicting a suit like this would come in the future. There are numerous threads to the industry’s deception — including the funding of think tanks that would produce favorable studies, and the creation of lobbying groups that existed solely for the industry’s benefit. It’s about time the industry was held accountable.
  • Narrative B, as provided by The Hill. These preposterous lawsuits are a desperate attempt to get a select handful of companies to pay for catastrophes that have resulted from decades of activity by numerous entities across the globe or simply natural causes. It’s a waste of money to sue rather than focus on the collaborative efforts being made by the industry with other groups to combat climate change in a meaningful way.