The county is seeking more than $1.5 billion in damages from the defendants, which also include Peabody Energy, ConocoPhillips and Occidental Petroleum.
“This lawsuit is about accountability and fairness, and I believe the people of Multnomah County deserve both,” said Jessica Vega Pederson, Multnomah County president. “These companies knew their products were unsafe and harmful and lied about it. They profited greatly from their lies and left the rest of us to suffer the consequences and pay the damages. We say enough is enough.”
Why it matters: Climate lawsuits are on the rise
This is the latest lawsuit in a growing wave of climate litigation around the world.
This week, a landmark case brought against the state of Montana by 16 youths was completed. In that lawsuit, plaintiffs argued that Montana violated their rights under the state constitution to a clean and healthy environment by supporting the fossil fuel industry.
States and cities across the country have been suing fossil fuel companies in recent years, alleging they misled the public about the dangers of climate change and that extreme weather, exacerbated by their emissions, has harmed people and property. Those cases — including those brought by the attorneys general in New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island — continue to work their way through the courts, and the first could go to trial as early as this year.
In April, the Supreme Court ruled that a group of climate cases brought by cities and municipalities should remain in state court, where they were expected to have a greater chance of winning damages, rather than in federal court, where fossil fuel companies are deemed to be were predominant.
The Oregon case is one of the first complaints seeking damages related to a specific weather event, and the first related to a heat dome. Last year, a group of 16 municipalities in Puerto Rico sued a group of fossil fuel companies for damages from a pair of hurricanes in 2017.
Background: The 2021 heat dome was deadly
In the last days of June 2021, scorching heat enveloped the Pacific Northwest.
In Seattle, famous for its rainy winters and relatively cool summers, temperatures hit a record 108 degrees Fahrenheit. At Portland International Airport, the thermostat hit 115 degrees.
In Multnomah County, the impact was severe. Temperatures reached a high of 116 degrees Fahrenheit, shattering records and leading to the deaths of 69 people and extensive property damage.