New Yorkers could sue Big Oil and other polluters for climate negligence under the Myrie Act

A Brooklyn Democrat is targeting fossil fuel companies over climate change with a bill that critics say could help lawyers more than Mother Earth.

The new legislation, introduced by State Sen. Zellnor Myrie (D-Brooklyn), would allow people to sue big oil companies and other polluters for damage caused by fossil fuels — similar to a controversial Texas law that bans individuals allowed to sue abortion providers.

The bill would target companies that demonstrate “negligence” in the “storage, transportation, refining, importing, exporting, producing, manufacturing” of products such as oil and gas, the law says.

A law memorandum notes that 63% of the carbon dioxide and methane in the Earth’s atmosphere was produced by just 90 “entities,” including US-based companies like ExxonMobile and Chevron alongside foreign companies like Saudi Aramco.

“The cost of inaction is so high – more homes are being destroyed by worsening floods, more lives are being destroyed by the chronic asthma and extreme heat that threatens us all. It’s about time ordinary New Yorkers said enough is enough,” Myrie told the Post.

Its legislation mimics a controversial Texas abortion law that relies on private individuals rather than the government to sue for civil damages to enforce restrictions, though Myrie Spectrum News said the Lone Star approach was “abhorrent” and “unreasonable.” .

Zellnor Myrie stands and smiles
Myrie’s bill relies on private individuals rather than the government to prosecute “negligent” polluters.

“But if lawmakers can use private litigation rights to cause harm and limit access to healthcare, we should also be able to use this concept to save our planet and protect our lives,” Myrie added.

However, critics say the proposed New York law is too impractical.

“We’re not going to eliminate them [of fossil fuel] use at any time in the immediate future. We depend on it – but you’re saying that the person providing this important product is financially responsible for it?” Ken Pokalsky, vice president of the Business Council of New York, told The Post.

“What’s the logic behind that?” he added.

Any company with annual sales of $1 billion or more would be subject to legislation, which the law says has no statute of limitations.

Its far-reaching scope could make it vulnerable to court challenges, particularly given the difficulty of connecting personal problems caused by pollution to the alleged negligence of fossil fuel companies, according to Tully Rinckey attorney Ryan McCall.

A power station with a blue-grey sky
Research shows that a relatively small number of companies are responsible for the vast majority of greenhouse gas emissions.
Getty Images

“In my opinion it’s going to be similar to any other personal injury lawsuit where we have to bring in medical experts who can say based on that specific emission that this type of injury happened to you,” he told the Post. “You would start to see a spate of litigation when it comes to these types of environmental cases like we’ve never seen before.”

While there are plausible ways to make polluters pay for verifiable damage caused by their use of fossil fuels, the bill, as it stands, could face formidable challenges from companies who object to New York telling them what they should do inside and outside its borders, McCall said.

“I definitely think you’re going to see federal challenges in this bill. I think that will be very likely, but I definitely think this law has a lot of value in terms of allowing private actors to pursue litigation,” he said.

The bill is the latest shot by New York City Democrats at companies they say should pay amid rising global temperatures that scientists say could spell a civilizational catastrophe if left unchecked.

Exxon prevailed against Attorney General Letitia James in 2019 after she filed a lawsuit the year before claiming the fossil fuel giant hid the true cost of climate change from investors for a year.

Sen. Zellnor Myrie
Myrie’s bill mimics the structure of Texas legislation that allows individuals to sue abortion providers.

Pokalsky argues Myrie’s is unfairly penalizing companies even though the state’s landmark climate law, which mandates an 85% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, allows them to use fossil fuels for years to come, while New York continues to rely on renewable energy sources such as Wind transfers and solar.

The lack of clarity about how companies are negligent only fuels the idea, Pokalsky says, that lawyers, not the planet, will benefit from the new law if it ever passes the legislature and is signed by Gov. Kathy Hochul.

“This appears to be designed for class action lawsuits,” he said.

That could improve the attorneys’ bottom line with questionable practical benefits, considering New Yorkers still rely on fossil fuels for a number of important everyday uses. he added.

“We will be using petrol in our cars for the foreseeable future. What does it mean for these oil companies not to contribute to climate change? Does that mean they somehow won’t sell it tomorrow or are they liable under this bill? What does that mean?” said Pokalsky. New Yorkers could sue Big Oil and other polluters for climate negligence under the Myrie Act


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