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An Oil Company Seeks to Move Rhode Island's Climate Change Lawsuit to Federal Court

Shell Oil, the first defendant to respond to a Rhode Island lawsuit seeking to hold oil companies accountable for climate change, motioned to take the case to federal court on Monday—a move that could threaten the suit, if approved.

The lawsuit alleges that 21 oil companies—among them ExxonMobil, BP, and Chevron—"[c]reated, contributed to, and assisted in creating conditions" that "constitute a public nuisance" in the state, including sea-level rise, according to a press release.

The "public nuisance" claim applies under a law that allows the state to prevent pollution of public property, but federal courts have sometimes rejected this argument in lawsuits related to climate change.

Amy Kempe, spokeswoman for Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, who brought the suit, argues that the case belongs in state court. "As the state maintains, the Rhode Island case was properly filed in state court based on the state law claims to address the specific damages caused by the defendants to Rhode Island," Kempe told the Providence Journal.

The move comes weeks after federal judges threw out similar lawsuits brought by Oakland, San Francisco, and New York City against fossil fuel companies, ruling that the responsibility falls to Congress and the executive branch.