Biden admin. tapped by U.S. Supreme Court in climate jurisdiction battle

Exxon Mobil logo and stock graph are seen through a magnifier displayed in this illustration taken September 4, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration
  • Municipalities and oil companies clash over whether climate-change-related cases belong in state or federal courts
  • Oil companies want to litigate in federal court, but cases have been sent back to state courts
  • U.S. Supreme Court asks Justice Department to weigh in

(Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday asked the Biden administration to weigh in on whether a lawsuit filed by several Colorado municipalities accusing ExxonMobil Corp and Suncor Energy Inc of worsening climate change belongs in state or federal court.

The justices are considering whether to take up the companies' appeal of an earlier finding that the dispute belonged in state court, a venue considered more favorable to the municipalities seeking climate-related damages.

The appeal would be a second chance for the high court to clarify where these types of cases belong. It first considered a narrower version of the issue in May 2021 in a case brought by the city of Baltimore.

Around two dozen state and local governments across the country have filed similar litigation, accusing oil companies of exacerbating climate change by concealing and misrepresenting the dangers associated with burning fossil fuels.

The oil companies have denied local governments' allegations and argued that despite the municipalities only raising state law claims, the cases clearly raise federal questions.

Since the Supreme Court's 2021 ruling, several federal appeals courts have affirmed earlier orders remanding cases back to state courts.

The Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals became the first to do so in February. The 10th Circuit concluded the lawsuit filed by Boulder and San Miguel counties and the city of Boulder did not belong in federal court because none of the grounds cited by the companies to change the venue supported giving federal courts jurisdiction.

Four other appeals courts have since reached similar conclusions in analogous climate suits. Those include cases filed by state and local governments in California, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, New Jersey and Rhode Island.

The Department of Justice did not immediately return a request for comment.

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Nate Raymond reports on the federal judiciary and litigation. He can be reached at nate.raymond@thomsonreuters.com.