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Michigan AG to sue fossil fuel companies over climate damage

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud announce felony charges against three defendants accused of signature fraud that kept five GOP gubernatorial candidates from qualifying for the 2022 primary ballot. (Rick Pluta/MPRN)
Rick Pluta
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud, seen in a 2022 file photo. (Photo: Rick Pluta/MPRN)
This coverage is made possible through a partnership between IPR and Grist, a nonprofit environmental media organization.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel plans to sue fossil fuel companies for knowingly causing climate change, harming the state’s economy and ways of life.

The department is asking outside lawyers to submit proposals to help with the case, which Nessel said could potentially bring billions to the state to help address damages from climate change. Attorneys and law firms can submit proposals through June 5th.

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

Nessel said her department is working with state agencies to assess the impacts of climate change in Michigan, which include more severe weather events, canceled sled dog races, shorter ski seasons, and risks to agriculture.

“It's long past time that we step up and hold the fossil fuel companies that are responsible for all these damages accountable,” she said.

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 said its own three-year investigation gave a “rare glimpse into the extensive efforts undertaken by fossil fuel companies to deceive 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 instance, ahead of a recent congressional hearing, documents were revealed showing that BP executives knew natural gas was contributing 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 it is part of an "ongoing, coordinated campaign to wage meritless, politicized lawsuits against a foundational American industry and its workers.” Meyers added that climate policy should be handled in Congress, not the courts.

With this suit, Michigan would join dozens of local, tribal and state governments that have taken similar steps to try to hold the industry accountable.

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

Izzy covers climate change for communities in northern Michigan and around the Great Lakes for IPR through a partnership with Grist.org.