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Mayor Bill De Blasio On Why New York City Is Suing 5 Major Oil Companies

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks during a press conference on Nov. 3, 2017 in New York City. (Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images)
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks during a press conference on Nov. 3, 2017 in New York City. (Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images)

Environmental groups are applauding New York City’s decision to sue five major oil companies and divest its pension funds of $5 billion in fossil fuel investments.

Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio made the announcement Thursday that the city is suing BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell.

“They are some of the very biggest companies in the fossil fuel industry. That industry knowingly exacerbated climate change,” de Blasio ( @NYCMayor) tells Here & Now‘s Meghna Chakrabarti. “They had all the evidence in the world of the damage that their products were causing, and they continued nonetheless to poison the Earth.”

Interview Highlights

On the city’s lawsuit against major oil companies

“We’re saying simply that this city — which suffered so deeply after Hurricane Sandy — has literally experienced billions and billions of dollars of damage as a result of climate change that these specific companies aided and abetted, and they should pay damages for that, very much the same way that tobacco companies were forced to pay damages for the horrible impact that they had knowingly on public health for so many years.”

On why the city isn’t also suing countries like China and India for their fossil fuel use, or the Trump administration for pulling the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement

“There are many countries and companies that bear responsibility here. But here’s what we know: These are among the leading actors by any estimation. These multinational fossil fuel companies have led the way they often were the ones that dictated government policies around the world to allow them to do what they were doing for their own profit.

“So let’s be clear, I don’t think anyone who is looking for fundamental change on this issue would fail to note that the biggest international petroleum companies are the core of the problem. We are suing them because we believe we can successfully sue them. We believe that we can get real damages here that will help protect the people in New York City going forward, and will also affect the behavior of these companies. If they are finally held accountable for what they’ve done, it will affect their bottom line and their choices going forward.”

On earlier lawsuits against big tobacco companies offering the “perfect model” for New York City’s suit

“At the outset, one could argue there were many, many elements of government and society that were aiding and abetting tobacco use. But the core of the problem was the tobacco companies themselves, who were really calling the tune. Those lawsuits ultimately prevailed, and a huge amount of money went into addressing the public health impact of tobacco. We wanna follow that same path, help to end climate change impacts by these companies by changing their behavior and get money back for the people of this city.

“At a certain point in our history, our economy got built on fossil fuels without an understanding of the impact on climate change. But over time, these companies did come to understand it. They saw the science, there’s plenty of evidence that they knew about it, they discussed it internally and they went to a great deal of trouble to cover up that information and deny it. That’s another strong parallel here — we know the very cynical actions of the tobacco companies 40, 50 years ago when they already knew that tobacco caused cancer, and yet they covered up the information and spun it as a perfectly healthy form of entertainment.”

On why New York’s two largest pension funds plan to divest their funds of $5 billion in fossil fuel investments

“Because we have to change the reality in our society, first of all. The power of the divestment movement is it says that this is no longer going to be accepted as the normal course of things, to continue to invest in something that’s poisoning the Earth, exacerbating natural disasters and by the way is not even a smart investment for the future. There are many estimates that say the vast majority of fossil fuel resources will never be taken out of the Earth because it’s become too dangerous and too damaging to the environment. So why invest in an industry whose fundamental assets will never be utilized? We think there are better, smarter investments, more forward-looking investments.

“I’m very proud to say New York City was in the forefront ending investments in South Africa during the apartheid regime, ending investments in private prisons, ending investments in the coal industry. It’s quite clear that it is smart both fiscally and morally to stop investing in fossil fuel industries, and by taking $5 billion of investments away, it sends a very powerful message to those industries.”

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