Colorado wildfires are expected to increase as the climate warmsThree Colorado communities have filed climate liability lawsuits as climate impacts have already taken a toll on the state. Photo credit: Marc Piscotty/Getty Images

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By Ucilia Wang

The three Colorado communities that filed a climate liability lawsuit against ExxonMobil and Suncor Energy have added a conspiracy allegation to the complaint, which describes attempts by the two companies to deceive the public about the impact of fossil fuels on the climate.

The amendment came two months after the city and county of Boulder, along with the County of San Miguel, first filed suit to seek a yet-specified amount of money to compensate for the damage caused by climate change. The communities are demanding the oil companies pay for efforts to adapt to and minimize the impact of climate change, which includes more severe wildfires, drought, floods, loss of mountain snowpack and pest-infested forests. The communities contend that Exxon and Suncor deliberately misled the public by failing to disclose the climate impact of fossil fuels. According to the lawsuit, both companies knew in the 1960s that they were selling goods that are the major drivers of global warming and cause public harm.

The added conspiracy claim is meant to highlight company actions that were already in the initial complaint, said Marco Simons, legal counsel for EarthRights International, an advocacy group that is providing legal support for the communities. If the new allegation is found true in court, it can make each company liable for the other’s conduct, he said.

“They both have a major presence in the state of Colorado, and they have connections to each other with respect to their conduct in Colorado,” Simons said.

Both companies have yet to file their response to the lawsuit. Exxon did not respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit. A Suncor spokesperson said, “In regards to the amendments, we are reviewing and will work through the appropriate next steps. We believe that progress on climate requires parties working together to find solutions and this lawsuit is polarizing and counterproductive.”

Colorado is a strong U.S. foothold for Suncor, a Canadian oil sands company. It runs one refinery and 47 gas and diesel stations in the state. Suncor says it supplies about 35 percent of the gasoline and diesel in Colorado.

Exxon and Suncor have a strong business relationship. Suncor licenses the ExxonMobil brand for some of its retail stores in Colorado.

Suncor co-owns an oil sands company, Syncrude Canada, with investors that include Imperial Oil, which is majority owned by Exxon.

The lawsuit is one of 13 filed recently by American communities seeking compensation from fossil fuel companies for climate impacts. The most recent lawsuit came from Washington State’s King County, which includes Seattle. Other cities that have filed lawsuits include San Francisco, Oakland and Santa Cruz.

New York City sued five oil companies and went to court last week to argue against a motion to dismiss the case. The presiding U.S. District Court Judge John F. Keenan, who didn’t rule immediately, expressed doubts that the city could sue fossil fuel companies when it relies on oil and gas to run public services such as fire and police.

Historically, courts have acknowledged that climate change poses a serious threat to public and environmental health, but have not held any fossil fuel companies responsible.

The Colorado plaintiffs, which are pursuing their case in the state court, argue that Exxon and Suncor’s deceptive tactics to market and sell fossil fuels have also caused a public nuisance and violated the state’s Consumer Protection Act.

In the lawsuit, Boulder and the two counties laid out the climate-related problems they are already battling. They are worried that the troubles will worsen, along with the spiraling cost of dealing with them.

They noted an increasing reliance on air conditioning to avoid heat-related health problems and the growing expense of mosquito control programs to rein in infectious diseases.

West Nile virus first showed up in Colorado in 2002, and the state saw the highest number of cases and deaths in the country by 2003, according to the lawsuit.