While Victoria and other B.C. municipal councils are on board with an activist effort to demand compensation from global energy companies for their products’ effects of climate change, others are pushing back against what they see as an inappropriate use of local government and court resources.
In Fort St. John, the heart of B.C.’s oil and gas industry, Mayor Lori Ackerman and council plan to take a resolution to regional and provincial municipal associations this year, to oppose the lawsuit plan proposed across B.C. city halls in December.
One of the early supporters was Whistler council, which felt an immediate backlash when it adopted the lawsuit proposed by West Coast Environmental Law and the Georgia Strait Alliance. A resource industry conference in Whistler was cancelled, and an Alberta oil executive wrote an open letter to Whistler’s mayor pointing out that his tourist economy would collapse without road and airline access to the world-famous resort.
Williams Lake Mayor Walt Cobb has also been outspoken, pointing out that most residents of his and other resource communities depend on oil and gas for their livelihood, to get to work and run machinery.
“Places with hardcore green councils, like Victoria, enthusiastically signed up for this financial shakedown campaign to appease their progressive voters,” Cobb wrote in a commentary in the Williams Lake Tribune. “This is in spite of benefiting from a large tourism sector totally reliant on fossil fuels to power their cruise ships, ferries, float planes and other modes of travel.”
The activist letter touts the effort as a cheap way to send a message to selected companies such as ExxonMobil and BP, which Cobb dismisses as “virtue signalling” that is likely to generate only legal and staff costs for B.C. communities. It calls on councils to follow the lead of San Francisco and Oakland, which sued Chevron and four other companies for the effects of global warming and sea level rise on their cities.
In a June 2018 ruling, U.S. District Judge William Alsup said he agrees with the scientific consensus of carbon dioxide emissions from fuel use affecting the climate, but responses are best left to the executive and legislative branches of government.
“Their causes are worldwide,” Alsup wrote. “The benefits of fossil fuels are worldwide.”
The concept has also been popular with the B.C. NDP government. Last fall, Attorney General David Eby moved ahead on a planned class-action lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies, to claim damages for opioid drug overdoses that followed widespread promotion of opioid pills like oxycodone.
Eby acknowledged that the pharmaceutical case is similar to a lawsuit against tobacco companies launched by the previous NDP government in 1997. That case still drags on more than 20 years later.
Central Saanich council made short work of the West Coast Environmental Law proposal. Mayor Ryan Windsor and two councillors voted for the letter to be referred to committee for further discussion, but the rest of council voted that down at their Dec. 10 meeting.