WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday threw out a series of disputes between energy companies and local governments over the impact of climate change on a loss to business interests.
The five cases, brought by cities and municipalities in Colorado, Maryland, California, Hawaii and Rhode Island, are part of efforts to hold corporations accountable for the effects of climate change.
The relatively narrow legal question is whether the claims should be heard in state court rather than federal court. Litigators are concerned by the widely held view that plaintiffs have a better chance of winning damages in state courts.
“The resolution of those questions will determine whether state courts have the power to impose the costs of global climate change on the energy industry,” lawyers for the companies said in court documents filed in the Colorado case.
The Biden administration urged the court not to hear the case and, in a change in the legal position taken by the Trump administration, said the lawsuit and others like it should be heard in state courts.
In all five cases, companies including BP, Chevron and Shell had lost in the lower courts.
The lawsuits by the municipalities say they have been harmed by the effects of climate change caused by carbon emissions for which oil companies are largely responsible.
In an earlier case, the Supreme Court in 2021 ruled in favor of the oil companies on a procedural issue in a similar lawsuit filed by the City of Baltimore.
In another legal matter, the court in a major ruling last year limited the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency to address climate change under a provision of the Clean Air Act.