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Energy companies win dismissal of Baltimore's climate change case

By Nate Raymond

(Reuters) - A Maryland judge on Thursday dismissed a lawsuit by the city of Baltimore seeking to hold energy giants such as Exxon Mobil, BP and Chevron responsible for climate change, saying the case went beyond the limits of state law by trying to address the effects of gas emissions globally.

Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Videtta Brown's decision marked the first time that a state court judge has dismissed one of the myriad of lawsuits nationally by state or local governments accusing the companies of concealing from the public the dangers of using their fossil fuel products.

The lawsuit accused the companies of engaging in a sophisticated campaign to deceive the public about the dangers of their fossil-fuel products, which contribute to greenhouse-gas pollution and climate change.

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"There is no question that global warming and climate change are wreaking havoc on our environment," Brown wrote.

But the judge said Congress never intended for lawsuits about global pollution to be handled by individual states, and that the city's 2018 lawsuit raised questions concerning out-of-state emissions that were beyond the reach of Maryland law.

For years, the energy companies had fought to avoid litigating Baltimore's lawsuit in state court, where it was first filed, even taking the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court, before federal courts sent the case back to state court.

But Brown said only federal law can govern claims over such emissions. She called Baltimore's contention that it was suing under state law only over allegedly deceptive fossil fuel marketing "a way to get in the back door what they cannot get in the front door."

Theodore Boutrous, a lawyer for Chevron, in a statement said the ruling "recognizes that climate policy cannot be advanced by the unconstitutional application of state law to regulate global emissions."

Sara Gross, the chief of the affirmative litigation division in the Baltimore City Department of Law, in a statement said the city disagreed with the ruling and planned to appeal.

State courts are often seen as more advantageous for plaintiffs than federal court. State court judges in other parts of the country including Hawaii, Massachusetts and Colorado have allowed similar cases to move forward.

Some cases, though, have been dismissed by federal courts, including one by New York City in a 2021 ruling whose rationale Brown followed in dismissing Baltimore's case.

The U.S. Supreme Court is considering whether to hear a bid by oil companies to scuttle a similar lawsuit by Honolulu.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston, Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Diane Craft)