(Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court declined on Monday to hear bids by Exxon Mobil Corp., Suncor Energy Inc., Chevron Corp. and others to move lawsuits filed by state and local governments accusing oil companies of exacerbating climate change out of state courts and into federal courts.
The justices rejected five appeals by the oil companies of lower court rulings that ruled the lawsuits belonged in state court, a venue often seen as more favorable to plaintiffs than federal court. The lawsuits were filed by the state of Rhode Island and municipalities or counties in Maryland, Colorado, California and Hawaii.
Many state and local governments have pursued climate-related lawsuits against oil companies, and the eventual rulings in the cases could help determine whether such lawsuits must be brought in federal or state courts.
The appeal had marked the first chance for the Supreme Court to decide whether to reopen an issue it last took up in 2021, when the judiciary gave oil companies another chance to redirect climate-related lawsuits brought by state and local governments to federal court.
In the 7-1 ruling, the justices concluded that a federal appeals court had not properly analyzed whether a lawsuit filed by the city of Baltimore against companies including BP PLC, Chevron and Exxon should be heard in federal court.
The decision prompted other federal appeals courts to reconsider whether to send similar lawsuits from state and local governments back to state courts, where they were originally filed.
Those cases included one filed in 2018 by the city of Boulder and by Colorado’s San Miguel and Boulder counties in which Exxon and Suncor were accused of exacerbating climate change by hiding and misrepresenting the dangers associated with burning fossil fuels.
The lawsuit said the companies created a public and private nuisance and violated state consumer protection laws when the jurisdictions tried to force Exxon and Suncor to pay for their costs of adapting to climate change.
The oil companies have denied the allegations and have sought to move the lawsuit to federal court, saying the local governments had brought their allegations under state law “to disguise the federal nature of their claims in state garb.”
The Denver-based 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals in February concluded that the lawsuit did not belong in federal court because none of the reasons the companies cited for changing venue supported giving federal courts jurisdiction.
Four other appeals courts after the Supreme Court’s 2021 ruling reached similar conclusions in climate change lawsuits against oil companies by state and local governments in California, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, New Jersey and Rhode Island.
Attorneys for Exxon and Suncor had argued that the Supreme Court should take up the Colorado case to address whether federal common law exclusively governs claims seeking redress for alleged damages caused by the effect of greenhouse gas emissions.
In March, President Joe Biden’s administration urged the justices not to hear the appeal by Exxon and Suncor, arguing that no federal issues had been raised in the litigation. It marked a reversal of the position taken by former President Donald Trump’s administration when the Supreme Court last considered the issue.