Although ExxonMobil now publicly takes the stance that carbon emissions are warming the planet and “action must be taken” to “assess the risks” posed by such warming, as McClatchy notes, “the hearing and ongoing trial will focus more on who knew what, when, and what they did in response.”

The cities alleged in their complaint, citing recent damning reports about secret industry research, that Exxon and the other companies have continued to promote oil and gas production “despite knowing—since at least the late 1970s and early 1980s if not earlier—that massive fossil fuel usage would cause dangerous global warming.”

As Burger explained, “At the core of the plaintiff’s lawsuit is the idea that these companies have long known about risks of their products…yet they took a course of action that resisted regulation and sought to keep them on the market as long as possible.”

By ordering the tutorial, “the court is forcing these companies to go on the record about their understanding of climate science,” added EarthRights International general counsel Marco Simmons, “which they have desperately tried to avoid doing.”

In a piece for Forbes, business attorney Brian H. Potts concludes that Alsup’s decision to proceed with the case in federal court “could open the floodgates for climate change litigation in federal courts around the country.”

“As a result of this decision, coal, oil, and natural gas producers could face federal common law nuisance claims all over the country,” he writes. “The size and scale of these suits could mirror the tobacco litigation that began in the 1990s.”

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