Just after a Federal Court in California dismissed a similar claim, the State of Rhode Island commenced an action against fossil fuel companies for compensation for the costs required to protect the State from rising seas and severe weather.
It is unlikely that the defendants will dispute the reality of the consequences of climate change for which the State claims compensation. Their principal defense will be that the issue is too complicated to be resolved in a court but should be left to legislative action at both the national and international level.
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), defended the state court action. He sceptically commented:
“The fossil fuel industry is fond of saying, you’re in the wrong forum, you shouldn’t be going to the courts, you should be going to Congress,” he said. “The reason they say that is because they have Congress locked up with their political power and their money and their influence.”
The Governor of Rhode Island, Gina Raimondo,disputed the utility of waiting for concrete steps by the Federal US Government – considering the inaction of the Trump administration on climate change and its rejection of the Paris Agreement.
The claim is based on the tort of nuisance which was the same theory asserted in the California action. Rhode Island invokes State law governing nuisance claims, which might be more sympathetic to the claim.