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Associated Press
Published: 26 June 2023

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Oregon’s most populous county is suing more than a dozen large fossil fuel companies to recover costs related to extreme weather events linked to climate change.

The lawsuit filed Thursday in Multnomah County Circuit Court alleges the combined carbon pollution the companies emitted was a substantial factor in causing and exacerbating a 2021 heat dome that killed 69 people, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported. Multnomah County is home to Portland and known nationally for mild weather and rain.

The companies named in the lawsuit include Shell, BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Koch Industries and ExxonMobil, among others.

Covering up harmful side effects

The county seeks over $51 billion in damages, including $50 million for costs it says it incurred because the heat dome.

Multnomah County is also asking for $1.5 billion in damages to pay for costs associated with future extreme heat events and an additional $50 billion to study, plan, and “weatherproof” against extreme heat. Some of the measures would include expanding health care and emergency services, adding insulation and HVAC systems to buildings, tearing out asphalt and planting more trees, Multnomah County chair Jessica Vega Pederson said.

“At the core, this lawsuit is about fairness and accountability for these giant oil companies who have record profits, who have known about the damage that their products do to our environment and who have been using pseudoscience, disinformation and outright lies for decades,” Pederson said.

Most of the companies named in the lawsuit didn’t respond to the newspaper’s request for comment. Chevron Corp. counsel Theodore J. Boutrous, Jr. in a statement contended the lawsuit makes “novel, baseless claims,” is unconstitutional and unfairly targets "one industry and group of companies engaged in lawful activity that provides tremendous benefits to society.”

ExxonMobil told Oregon Public Broadcasting that the lawsuit did “nothing to address climate change.”

Life-threatening consequences

Residents and officials in the Pacific Northwest have become more vigilant about heat wave preparations after some 800 people died in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia during the heat dome weather event caused by a strong ridge of high pressure in late June and early July 2021.

The temperature at the time soared to an all-time high of 116 F (46.7 C) in Portland and smashed heat records in cities and towns across the region with some temperatures more than 30 degrees higher than normal. Many of the hundreds of people who died were older and lived alone.

Multnomah County’s lawsuit joins communities around the globe that have filed lawsuits against climate polluters that continue to market products that science shows are driving human-caused climate change.

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