May 30, 2024

This coverage is made possible through a partnership with Grist and Interlochen Public Radio in Northern Michigan.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced Thursday that she plans to sue fossil fuel companies for knowingly contributing to climate change, which harms the state’s economy and ways of life.

“It is long past time that we step up and hold accountable the fossil fuel companies responsible for all this damage,” she said.

With this litigation, Michigan would join dozens of local, tribal and state governments which has took similar steps to try to make the industry pay for climate damage.

Nessel said the case is an attempt to recover some of what Michigan has lost to climate change, which has pointed to severe weather, risks to agriculture, and last winter’s short ski season and canceled sled dog races.

The department asks outside attorneys to submit proposals to help with the case, which Nessel says could potentially bring billions to the state to address climate change damage. Lawyers and law firms can submit proposals until June 5.

“A case like this is exhausting in nature,” she told Interlochen Public Radio. “You’re going after Big Oil, so you have to have some support in terms of additional lawyers and support staff.”

Investigations in 2015 from Inside Climate News and the Los Angeles Times showed that companies like Exxon knew about the dangers of greenhouse gas emissions for decades but minimized those threats.

Last month, the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability referred to that reporting and said his own nearly three-year investigation provided a “rare look at the extensive efforts fossil fuel companies have undertaken to mislead the public and investors about their knowledge of the effects of their products on climate change and to undermine efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions.”

For example, before a recent congressional hearing, newly disclosed documents showed this BP executives knew natural gas contributed significantly to climate change but promoted it as a “bridge” fuel to replace coal.

Asked about Michigan’s plans to sue, Ryan Meyers, the American Petroleum Institute’s senior vice president and general counsel, said in an emailed statement that it was part of an “ongoing, coordinated campaign to pursue meritless, politicized lawsuits conduct against a fundamental American industry and its workers.” Meyers added that climate policy should be handled in Congress, not the courts.

The Attorney General’s Department is working with state agencies to assess the impacts of climate change in Michigan.

Nessel said the state has successfully pursued similar legal efforts in the past, including against the opioid industry and chemical manufacturers who produce PFAS.

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