USA: The Supreme Court sent three climate change cases back to lower courts on Monday after it handed a narrow win to big oil companies last week. The decisions, released in unsigned orders, vacated previous rulings in cases involving the companies Shell, Suncor, and Chevron.
In all three cases, the court asked appeals courts to reconsider the disputes between oil companies and state and local governments in light of its ruling in a case involving BP, ExxonMobil, as well as other oil companies, and the city of Baltimore.
In that case, the court did not consider the merits of Baltimore’s claims against the oil companies, which involved a long-running dispute over whether energy companies should be forced to contribute to local infrastructure costs related to climate change.
The city in 2018 filed a complaint in the Maryland state courts, but the oil companies tried to make the case a federal issue.
The Supreme Court sided with the oil companies, which had major implications for other energy companies locked in similar battles with state and local governments.
In a 7-1 decision with an opinion written by Justice Neil Gorsuch, the Supreme Court found that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit should have considered more arguments from the oil companies on why the case should be heard in federal court.
The result of that decision came fully into view on Monday.
There are now four cases involving climate change disputes in which the Supreme Court has given oil companies more time to prepare arguments against having to face state courts, where, at least when the cases were raised, they could not rely on the support of the Trump administration.
In recent weeks, the push to keep these disputes out of federal courts has provoked criticism from Democrats.
Nine Democratic senators in May sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland asking him to change the Trump-era stance on the disputes.
The Trump Justice Department had taken the oil companies’ side in the case before the Supreme Court, which was argued just before President Joe Biden took office.
“The fossil fuel industry will continue to undermine justice by using these briefs until the Department reverses the positions it has taken in those lawsuits,” wrote the senators, led by Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal.
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