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Puerto Rico Takes on Big Oil

The country is adopting a new legal strategy, in contrast to other recent climate-related lawsuits, which have attempted to hold polluters accountable under state consumer protection laws.

Puerto Rico flag flying on a beach

Other lawsuits are already in play against Big Oil in the US, and further south in the Caribbean sixteen municipalities in Puerto Rico also have filed a lawsuit against Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Shell, and other fossil fuel giants, accusing them of colluding to conceal their products’ contribution to climate change.

By misrepresenting the risks of fossil fuels to the public, the suit argues, the companies made Puerto Rico more vulnerable to hurricanes like Maria and Irma, which killed thousands of people and caused tens of billions of dollars in damages, including wiping out a significant percentage of the island’s crops.

Unlike other suits elsewhere, the municipalities are seeking redress under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations, or RICO Act, a federal law that sets penalties for dishonest business practices in the context of organized or white-collar crime.

Karen Sokol, a law professor at Loyola University, said the RICO claims in the new lawsuit could protect it from one of the fossil fuel industry’s favorite delaying tactics, in which companies stall state cases by appealing them to federal court. The Puerto Rico suit, however, has already been filed in federal court based on clear allegations that the companies have violated a federal statutory law. So rather than a complex and protracted jurisdictional conflict, Sokol said, the question at hand will be much more straightforward: “It’s going to be a battle over whether it should get dismissed or should proceed to trial.”


Big Oil Going to Trial Over Alleged Climate Crimes: The Massachusetts high court has ruled that the US’s largest oil company, ExxonMobil, must face trial over accusations that it lied about the climate crisis and covered up the fossil fuel industry’s role in worsening environmental devastation - and should be forced to help pick up the tab for remedial action, not taxpayers. Read on...

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