A federal judge was openly skeptical during oral arguments Wednesday over New York City’s suing five of the world’s biggest oil companies for supposed global warming.
U.S. District Judge John F. Keenan questioned the city’s standing to bring the lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages from BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell.
At one point, Keenan asked a city lawyer if New York City had investments in the companies it was suing. At another, he noted the many cars and trucks owned by the police, fire and sanitation departments.
“Aren’t you trying to dress a wolf up in sheep’s clothing?” he asked the city’s attorney Matthew Pawa.
“Aren’t the plaintiffs using the product?” Keenan asked. “Does the city have clean hands?”
“Yes, the city uses fossil fuels,” Pawa responded.
Pawa recalled successful litigation to hold tobacco companies responsible for the harms of cigarette smoking and said he was asking Keenan “to apply very old law to new facts.”
Theodore Boutrous, arguing for the oil companies, called global warming an “important, thorny issue” and added that “lawsuits are not the way to deal with this.”
Boutrous said the lawsuit was trying to hold the companies responsible for the “way civilization and humankind has developed over the ages … back to the industrial revolution.” He suggested it was an issue better left up to Congress.