A New York state legislator has introduced a law that would allow private citizens to sue oil and gas providers over the negative impacts of climate change, which critics say might cause an “explosion” of abusive lawsuits, E&E News reported Wednesday.
The proposed legislation’s unorthodox enforcement method — where private citizens sue to enforce the law — is based on recent laws from Texas and California that employ a similar technique, the bill’s author Democratic state Sen. Zellnor Myrie, told E&E News. Texas’ Heartbeat Act, which the Supreme Court declined to block and sent back to lower courts in January 2022, allows private citizens to sue those who perform or aid in the performance of an abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, typically roughly six weeks of pregnancy.
“If we know with certainty that our time is short to save our planet, why aren’t we taking every shot to save it that we can?” Democratic state Sen. Zellnor Myrie, who wrote the proposed New York legislation, asked the outlet. “Why not use every avenue? Why not use every tool?”
A similar California gun law went into effect on Jan. 1 and allows private individuals to sue those that manufacture, distribute or sell firearms without serial numbers, according to E&E News. While the California law was in part an effort by Gov. Gavin Newsom to demonstrate the unconstitutionality of Texas’ abortion law, Myrie hopes that the threat of lawsuits might hinder the activity of oil and gas companies in the state.
Just as Texas legislators hoped that lawsuits would chill abortion efforts, “the prospect of litigation is something that [oil and gas firms] will have to contend with,” Myrie told E&E News. “They may say this is the cost of doing business, but my hope is that they would have a moment of introspection and say, ‘Hey we’ve had these record profits, but public sentiment is turning. … Maybe we should stop being deceptive and start engaging in a real and genuine way to see what can be done to mitigate the crisis.’”
The Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York, an association of business and taxpayers dedicated to reducing “lawsuit abuse,” vehemently opposes the bill, according to E&E News. The group’s executive director, Tom Stebbins, told the outlet that the legislation would “lead to an explosion of litigation.”
New York City has previously attempted to sue some fossil fuel producers over climate change, an effort that was rejected in 2021 by a federal appeals court, according to E&E News. Myrie argues that the new legislation forces lawsuits to remain in New York, where he believes judges understand the impact of climate change.
“I would hope that the industry is aware enough that we’re going to continue to act on climate,” Myrie told E&E News. “You can either be constantly on the other side, or you can figure out how to be part of the solution.”
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