County mulls suing companies for damage caused by climate change

  • Joe Kamelamela

The county will consider filing a lawsuit against fossil fuel companies for damages caused by climate change.

While the Hawaii County Council passed a resolution last Wednesday to join a lawsuit by the City and County of Honolulu against a collective of fossil fuel companies, Hawaii County Corporation Counsel Joe Kamelamela said last week that the county will likely not join the Honolulu lawsuit but instead consider pursuing its own lawsuit.

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“Our cases are just too different,” Kamelamela said, explaining that the county may file an amicus brief in support of the Honolulu case, but will not become a co-plaintiff.

The Honolulu case specifically targets Sunoco LP, Aloha Petroleum Ltd., Exxon Mobil Corp., Royal Dutch Shell PLC, Shell Oil Co., Chevron Corp., and BHP Group Limited, accusing them of encouraging the production and use of fossil fuels despite being aware of the long-lasting environmental damages they cause, making them liable for damages caused by anthropogenic climate change. Kamelamela said any case filed by the county would be similar in principle.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty,” Kamelamela said. “And a lot of that uncertainty comes from knowing that a lot of these similar lawsuits have been dismissed in federal court.”

Kamelamela explained that the biggest challenge in supporting such a lawsuit is in proving damage. While council members touted internal documents from fossil fuel companies proving that they knew about how fossil fuel use contributed to climate change for decades, Kamelamela said it will still be difficult to tie the environmental impacts affecting Hawaii County to those companies.

“How do you prove that a hurricane was caused by climate change?” Kamelamela wondered. By observing what works and what doesn’t in other climate change lawsuits filed around the country, he said, the county can formulate a lawsuit that is more likely to succeed.

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For now, Kamelamela said he will observe similar cases throughout the nation to determine the appropriate time to file a lawsuit on behalf of the county.

“Right now, we lose nothing by waiting,” Kamelamela said.

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