Dear Attorney General Bonta,
Congratulations on your recent appointment to serve as attorney general of California. We look forward to working with your office to advance the well-being of Californians. As attorney general, you have the authority and duty to act on behalf of Californians and for the well-being of our state. One of the greatest challenges impacting millions of people across California today is the climate crisis. From rising sea levels along our coast to wildfires raging across the entire state, the climate crisis is happening right now in California–and its impacts are only intensifying. Property is being destroyed. Livelihoods are being threatened. Californians’ way of life hangs in the balance. But the people of California did not cause this crisis. It is time to make the industry that has profited from climate destruction pay for the damage to California it has knowingly caused and continues to fuel.
That is why we — the undersigned local, state, and federal elected officials across the state of California– urge you to investigate and, if warranted, sue the fossil fuel industry for its role in fueling the climate crisis.
Indeed, the climate crisis was not inevitable. It was spurred in large part by the fossil fuel industry that, since at least the 1960s, has known that extracting and burning fossil fuels would lead to catastrophic harms. Despite warnings from industry scientists, Chevron, Exxon, Shell, and other fossil fuel producers have spent the past several decades denying and obfuscating the truth behind the climate crisis, while continuing to fuel it and push false climate solutions in the name of increased profits. Although there are important actions being taken across the state to address the climate crisis, it is imperative that the fossil fuel industry also be held liable for damages and past harms.
In a matter of weeks in 2020, California experienced six of the largest wildfires in modern history, while suffering through record-high temperatures. Millions of people fled their homes, lost their livelihoods, or became sick from excessive wildfire pollution. Sadly, we know that these extreme impacts are simply the beginning. Our state’s own Climate Change Assessment is filled with dire predictions: From coastal flooding to heatwaves to water shortages, California will suffer increasingly harmful climate impacts. One such prediction — that the water supply from snowpack in California will decline by two-thirds by the end of the century, in part due to climate change-related events would gravely impact water access for public, agricultural, and industrial use.
Make no mistake, this crisis disproportionately impacts communities historically burdened by environmental injustice and social and economic inequities. From the Bay Area to Imperial Beach, those consistently on the frontlines of the climate crisis are people of color. These impacts are further exacerbated by income inequality and institutionalized oppression based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and physical ability. People on the frontlines are more likely to experience extreme heat, floods, wildfires, and pollution as a result of climate change. They are also disproportionately affected by the health impacts of climate change.
This pattern is not new but rather builds on decades of environmental racism exacerbated by the actions of the fossil fuel industry. The fossil fuel industry perpetuates environmental racism by siting its most polluting operations in predominantly Black and brown communities–whether it be an urban oil field in Los Angeles or toxic refinery operations in Richmond. For example, the Chevron refinery in Richmond has continued to have toxic flares and multiple explosions, which release toxic substances into the air and has led to respiratory illnesses and cancers for Richmond’s predominately Black and brown residents.
While this crisis is impacting frontline communities first and hardest, the entire state of California will be financially impacted. The estimated costs of climate change on California’s economy are enormous: By 2050, the cost of premature mortality as a result of the climate crisis will be $84.8 billion; also by 2050 $42 billion from mega inland flooding; and about $1 billion per year from impacts on water supply. The costs of adaptation efforts like building seawalls for coastal communities alone are estimated to be about $22 billion. This simply cannot stand–taxpayers, cities, and the state of California cannot and should not have to shoulder the entire costs for a problem they did not primarily create.
Real and just solutions to the climate crisis are within reach, and people on the frontlines of the climate crisis have been demanding them for decades. Holding polluters liable can help unlock funding for these solutions–funding that cities and our state sorely need to recover from loss and damage caused by this crisis. Securing a damages award for the state could ensure that financing will go to and be allocated in meaningful partnership with the people and cities who have been most impacted by the climate crisis. Taking action to hold polluters liable is an important step in advancing climate justice.
That is why we call on you today to join cities, counties, and seven attorneys general across the U.S. in holding the fossil fuel industry liable for climate damages and climate fraud.
Repairing the harm that the fossil fuel industry has done and continues to cause California communities is imperative. Suing the industry is a starting point for justice and one that must initiate a meaningful and equitable process that ensures climate and land reparations for frontline and Indigenous communities first and foremost.
As the attorney general, you are uniquely responsible for the safety and well-being of California residents and taxpayers. You have the power to hold climate polluters accountable, and in doing so recover the costs needed for climate adaptation and resiliency efforts. Action by the state of California would have far-reaching impacts and inspire more states, cities, and counties to take action across the country.
The impacts of climate change are clear. Evidence of the fossil fuel industry’s responsibility for fueling climate change and associated impacts is mounting every day. Now is the moment for political courage and leadership. We urge you to act on behalf of the people and hold the fossil fuel industry accountable.
- Scott Wiener, California State Senator
- Henry Stern, California State Senator
- Ben Allen, California State Senator
- Marc Berman, California State Assemblymember
- Buffy Wicks, California State Assemblymember
- Al Muratsuchi, California State Assemblymember
- Katie Valenzuela, Sacramento City Councilmember
- Mai Vang, Sacramento City Councilmember
- Mike Bonin, Los Angeles City Councilmember
- Nithya Raman, Los Angeles City Councilmember
- Paul Koretz, Los Angeles City Councilmember
- Rebecca Kaplan, Oakland Vice Mayor
- Paloma Aguirre, Imperial Beach City Councilmember
- Carroll Fife, Oakland City Councilmember
- Dan Kalb, Oakland City Councilmember
- Aaron Peskin, San Francisco District 3 Supervisor
- Gordon Mar, San Francisco Supervisor
- Justin Cummings, Santa Cruz City Councilmember
- Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson, Santa Cruz City Councilmember
- Claudia Jimenez, Richmond City Councilmember
- Eduardo Martinez, Richmond City Councilmember
- Carmen Ramirez, Ventura County Supervisor
- Lindsey Horvath, West Hollywood City Councilmember
- Dan Brotman, Glendale City Councilmember
- Noah Griffin, Tiburon Town Councilmember
- Sara Lamnin, Hayward Mayor Pro Tempore
- Alexis Fineman, San Anselmo Mayor
- Ge’Nell Gary, Albany Mayor
- Stephanie Hellman, Fairfax Mayor
- Devin Murphy, Pinole Mayor Pro Tempore
- Sara Aminzadeh, Marin County Assembly Candidate