The Honolulu City Council passed a measure Tuesday to sue large oil companies, backing plans by Mayor Kirk Caldwell to seek compensation for the damaging effects of climate change.
The city contends the fossil fuel companies like ExxonMobil knew their products would harm the environment while they collected billions in profits.
Officials plan to seek compensation for repairs and mitigation efforts, citing rising temperatures and sea levels that threaten roads and other near-shore infrastructure.
"Global warming has increased dramatically resulting in changes to the environment that have had an impact on our island and affected the residents of our state," said Council member Ron Menor, who introduced the measure. "So it’s only fair that the multibillion-dollar companies responsible for global warming be held accountable for the impacts their activities have had on our economy and quality of life in Hawaii."
Council member Heidi Tsuneyoshi said during committee discussions that if the city wins the lawsuit, she wants to see the money distributed throughout the island, not just in Honolulu’s urban core.
The council also voted to retain the San Francisco-based law firm Sher Edling LLP to represent the city in the suit. Sher Edling will be hired on a contingency basis and would only receive money if Honolulu wins the case.
Menor reassured council members that no tax dollars would be used to fund the lawsuit. Voting 7-0, the council passed the measure to file suit and retain counsel, with members Tsuneyoshi and Kymberly Pine absent.
Maui Mayor Michael Victorino was the first among the county mayors to announce plans to sue the oil companies for climate change damage.
Other municipalities and jurisdictions have filed suits against the major fossil fuel companies, but the legal path to win such litigation is not clear.
A trial is underway in New York's lawsuit against ExxonMobil and the company has denied the claims in the suit. It has called a similar action filed by Massachusetts "baseless," U.S. News and World Report said.