Updated Mar 21, 2018 - Energy & Environment

EPA chief gets his climate debate — in court

Both sides of a lawsuit on damages from climate change will today in court reaffirm the scientific consensus that human activity is extremely likely to have caused global warming over the last century.

Why it matters: EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has said he wants to host a public debate discussing to what degree humans are driving the Earth’s temperature to rise. Wednesday’s federal court hearing in San Francisco, in which California cities are suing big oil companies alleging they’re liable for damages related to climate change, is surprisingly providing that debate.

The hearing will directly contradict what Pruitt and other Trump administration officials have said, doubting human activity is a leading driver of climate change. Even the defendants in this case, including Exxon, Shell and Chevron, are expected to confirm the scientific consensus and contradict Pruitt’s positions.

The big picture: Wednesday's hearing, in a case brought by San Francisco and Oakland, is part of a broader legal push by liberal cities alleging that big oil companies have concealed what they knew about climate change and are liable for billions of dollars of damage caused by rising global temperatures.

The bottom line:

While conservative think tanks, political pundits, and industry-funded researchers are at liberty to say whatever they want, the courtroom demands a higher level of integrity. I expect the defendants will underscore points of uncertainty in the science, and highlight difficulties in attributing causation to particular actors. But the basics of climate science are not legitimately open to debate.”
— Michael Burger, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University

Go deeper: The flawed climate gambit against big oil.

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