Washington's King County drops climate lawsuit against oil companies

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(Reuters) - King County in Washington state has dropped a state court lawsuit accusing five major oil companies including BP Plc, Chevron Corp and Exxon Mobil Corp of contributing to climate change.

The county, which includes Seattle, said in a Tuesday filing that it is voluntarily abandoning its lawsuit alleging public nuisance and trespass over the energy companies' production and promotion of fossil fuels. The filing did not provide an explanation.

The county is the first to end its case among two dozen municipal and state plaintiffs that have filed similar lawsuits over the last four years. The King County case sought hundreds of millions of dollars in damages.

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Matthew Pawa of Seeger Weiss, a lawyer for King County, declined to comment. King County did not immediately provide a comment.

"Legal proceedings like this waste millions of dollars of taxpayer money and do nothing to advance meaningful actions that reduce the risks of climate change," said Exxon spokesperson Casey Norton. Exxon is represented by Paul, Weiss, Rifkind Wharton & Garrison.

BP and Chevron did not immediately respond to requests for comment. BP is represented by Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer. Chevron's lawyers include Theodore Boutrous of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.

The lawsuit sought to require the companies to fund an abatement program and compensate the county for current and planned expenditures to protect its residents and infrastructure from increased flooding, sea-level rise and other climatic changes tied to global warming.

Environmental law experts Dan Farber of the University of California Berkeley School of Law and Patrick Parenteau of Vermont Law School both said they were surprised at the case's sudden end. Farber said the move could signal an evolving legal strategy.

"It's possible that they're also thinking about re-gearing their complaint to follow some of the other states that have focused on marketing claims because they might think that'll give them a stronger case," Farber said.

Recent lawsuits by attorneys general from Vermont, Massachusetts and other states have accused members of the fossil fuel industry of violating state laws by deceiving consumers about harms caused by their products.

Those claims are seen by some observers as more likely to succeed than nuisance claims, Farber said.

The case is King County v. BP Plc, U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, No. 2:18-cv-758.

For King County: Steve Berman of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro; and Matthew Pawa of Seeger Weiss

For BP: Jonathan Hughes at Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer

For Chevron: Theodore Boutrous at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher

For Exxon Mobil: Angelo Calfo of Calfo Eakes; and Theodore Wells of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind Wharton & Garrison

Read more:

Vermont AG takes on Exxon, Shell over climate change in new lawsuit

SCOTUS takes a pass on Chevron appeal in climate lawsuit

Oil companies defeat New York City appeal over global warming

Exxon must face Massachusetts lawsuit alleging climate change deceit

INSIGHT Climate change turns up the heat on ad industry

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Thomson Reuters

New York-based correspondent covering environmental, climate and energy litigation.