Maui Mayor Michael Victorino announced plans Tuesday to sue fossil fuel companies that he says are responsible for climate change-related damage to roads and other infrastructure, but there are challenges.
"Someone needs to pay," said Victorino. "Fossil fuel companies have caused the substantial share of all industrial greenhouse gas pollution for the past 50-plus years."
Victorino said sea level rise and other environmental impacts will worsen, according to scientists.
The mayor will need to seek approval of the Maui County Council, with which he's been at odds on various subjects, to hire attorneys with expertise to bring the suit. It was not immediately clear how the county planned to tie climate change events like wildfires to specific fossil fuel companies or if that would be required.
Victorino pointed to a series of brush fires this year that have burned 23,000 acres so far. He said almost six times more land burned than in all of 2018.
"This lawsuit is about accountability. Fossil fuel companies knew -- their own experts warned them -- about the potentially 'severe' or 'catastrophic' effects of doing business as usual, and the damage that could be caused by producing, marketing and selling their products," he stated in a news release.
"We can no longer allow fossil fuel companies to shift the cost of paying for the effects of sea level rise and climate change to our taxpayers."
While the mayor did not name specific fossil fuel companies, the major energy firms nclude BP, Chevron, Shell and ExxonMobil. They have also led spending of millions on lobbying efforts to block policies addressing climate change, according to a report by InfluenceMap, a London-based nonprofit.
Victorino said erosion and waves could "wipe out miles of Honoapiilani Highway, the main lifeline for motorists to get to and from homes, resorts and business areas in West Maui."
According to the University of Hawaii Sea Grant Program, the mayor said, West Maui is most at risk of economic loss from sea level rise damage to structures and land. The potential damage was estimated at $1.9 billion. Other areas facing dollar losses include Kihei-Makena ($980.8 million), Wailuku-Kahului ($289.8 million), and Molokai ($284.8 million).