Maui, its coast particularly vulnerable to climate impacts, will sue oil companies for climate damageMaui's spectacular coast is particularly vulnerable to climate impacts, prompting the next liability suit vs. the oil industry over climate damages. Photo credit: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
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By Karen Savage

Maui County will become the next municipality to file a climate liability suit against fossil fuel companies.

Mayor Michael Victorina on Tuesday said he intends to file suit against the companies to hold them accountable for climate impacts to Maui County, which includes four of Hawaii’s islands and more than 200 miles of coastline.

Hawaii is particularly vulnerable to climate impacts such as sea level rise, drought and wildfires, with those impacts already taking a catastrophic toll. Recent brush fires have burned 23,000 acres of Maui County, causing evacuations and the closure of the Kapalua Airport.

Sea level rise is already affecting public infrastructure, public and private property and harming Maui County’s economy. Projections of stronger and more frequent El Nino events and tropical cyclones will increase its vulnerability to coastal flooding erosion and other impacts of severe weather. Damage is expected to be in the millions.

The lawsuit will join more than a dozen others across the country, filed by cities, counties and one state (Rhode Island) to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for the impacts of climate change. The municipalities have filed mostly under state laws, accusing the companies of knowing their products fueled global warming as they sold and marketed them for decades. They are seeking compensation for climate impacts that have already happened as well as adaptation costs to protect citizens and infrastructure.

“Much of the land designated for urban land uses will be adversely affected by sea level rise, so we need to plan for that now,” Victorino said, adding that the county expects climate change to  impact on tourism, harbors, airports, infrastructure pump stations, water and sewer lines and roadways.

The suit, which will be filed pending the approval of the Maui County Council, is expected to target major fossil fuel companies, similar to suits filed by dozens of municipalities across the country.

“Fossil fuel companies could have taken steps to reduce damage or warn people about the danger from continued use of products that harm the environment. Instead, they’ve promoted and marketed their products and made billions in profits, all the while protecting their own assets from the damages they knew would occur,” Victorino said.

“They’ve undertaken a campaign to undermine their own science that predicted global warming and its devastating impacts. We can no longer allow fossil fuel companies to shift the cost of paying for the effects of sea level rise and climate change to our taxpayers.”

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