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Talking Points with Taylor: State lawsuits against Big Oil may change the future of oil

California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Rob Bonta announced Friday that California is suing Big Oil.

California is suing five major oil companies, their subsidiaries and the American Petroleum Institute, or API, a trade association that claims to represent corporations involved in the petroleum industry. Newsom stated they are suing for “decades of deception” from oil companies; he asserts oil companies have deceived the public for decades about fossil fuels’ harm to human and environmental health. Since 2018, a handful of other states have filed lawsuits against Big Oil and California just happens to be the latest to do so. State governments are fighting to protect citizens against climate change and these lawsuits may change the future of oil.

Rhode Island was the first state to sue Big Oil, followed by New York, Minnesota, Delaware, Connecticut and now California, which will be the largest state with the largest economy to challenge oil companies in court. The lawsuits all present similar claims about oil companies intentionally misleading consumers about oil’s direct impact on climate change. The lawsuits were also similarly filed against one or more of the largest oil companies, including Shell, BP, ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips and Chevron Corp. 

So what implications do these lawsuits have for the future of oil? States are slowly coming together to fight against oil companies, paving the way for stricter regulations on oil production. States recognizing that oil companies inflict detriments on environmental and human health proves how much momentum movements against oil have gained. Originally, making oil companies pay for their damages was just a goal for grassroots movements and environmental organizations. Now, state governments are trying to make those goals a reality, and they aren’t unrealistic considering Montana youths’ victory against the state promoting fossil fuels.

This summer Montana youths won a landmark lawsuit against the state in which they claimed state officials violated their constitutional rights to a “clean and healthful environment” by promoting fossil fuels. The district court affirmed anthropogenic activity contributes to climate change and recognized its harm to the plaintiffs. This decision opens doors for other courts to use climate change as a partial basis in their rulings.

By directly suing Big Oil, states communicate who is primarily responsible for global warming. States challenging major oil companies already see the ramifications directly caused by their defendants. The more states that directly confront Big Oil, the bigger the message is that oil companies are to blame. These lawsuits invite other governments to seek compensation for their citizens and expand the movement with the intent of eventually seeking national policy.

States face a grueling battle against oil companies. They have tons of government protection and funding to back them up, but this has not stopped states and cities from trying. The fact that states are willing to fight against one of the most powerful global industries demonstrates their commitment to protecting their citizens. The people influence the government as much as the government influences the people, and together they must continue to fight against Big Oil.

Taylor Henninger is a junior studying journalism at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnist do not reflect those of The Post. Do you agree? Tell Taylor by emailing her at

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