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Environmental Rights, Public Trust, and Public Nuisance: Addressing Climate Injustices Through State Climate Liability Litigation

December 2020

Citation: ELR 11022

Author: Barry E. Hill

This Article focuses on an area of rapidly evolving jurisprudence—climate liability litigation. It examines in depth the state attorney general’s complaint filed in Rhode Island v. Chevron Corp. in 2018, alleging various state-law tort claims. It explores the intensely sustained legal battles taking place between states and fossil fuel companies over whether federal courts or state courts should have jurisdiction, which in many respects is the “ballgame issue” for both plaintiffs and defendants. Rhode Island’s carefully crafted complaint arguably provides a roadmap for other states, as it comprehensively weaves together the state’s public trust and public nuisance laws as well as the state’s environmental rights amendment. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit recently ruled that the state was “alleging [under state law that] the oil companies produced and sold oil and gas products that were damaging the environment in Rhode Island and engaged in a misinformation campaign about the harmful effects on the earth’s climate,” and remanded the case back to state court for trial.

Barry E. Hill is a Visiting Scholar at the Environmental Law Institute and Adjunct Professor at Vermont Law School. He served as Director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Environmental Justice from 1998-2007.

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