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A view of the Golden Gate Bridge from Baker Beach in San Francisco. Photo: Marji Lang/LightRocket via Getty Images

A federal district court judge has tossed out a lawsuit against five major oil companies, including Exxon and Shell, brought by two California cities seeking compensation for the costs of dealing with rising seas.

Why it matters: The litigation by San Francisco and Oakland is an early and important battleground in a wider group of lawsuits that directly go after powerful oil companies over the effects of climate change.

What happened: Judge William Alsup's 16-page ruling Monday essentially said that executive and legislative processes are the best venues to decide how to balance the harms of global warming against the benefits that fossil fuels have provided, noting the "development of our modern world has literally been fueled by oil and coal."

The key lines from the decision: Alsup, a judge with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, said he "fully accepts the vast scientific consensus" that burning fossil fuels is warming the planet and accelerating sea level rise, but added:

"[Q]uestions of how to appropriately balance these worldwide negatives against the worldwide positives of the energy itself, and of how to allocate the pluses and minuses among the nations of the world, demand the expertise of our environmental agencies, our diplomats, our Executive, and at least the Senate."

What they're saying: "This is obviously not the ruling we wanted, but this doesn’t mean the case is over," said John Coté, a spokesman for the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office, in comments published in the San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere. On the other side, major oil companies called the ruling appropriate:

  • "Judge Alsup’s decision reaffirms our view that climate change is a complex challenge that requires collaboration from all segments of society and not an issue for the courts," said Shell spokesman Curtis Smith.
  • "We welcome the Court’s order dismissing these ill-conceived cases and we will continue to vigorously defend ourselves against all other similar claims," said BP spokesman Geoff Morrell.

Be smart: Attorney David Bookbinder of the non-profit think tank The Niskanen Center, co-counsel for the Colorado plaintiffs, told Axios last night that while "it is never good when a judge says the other side wins," the California decision is just one phase in a longer fight.

  • "This is round one of many, many rounds of decisions in these cases," he said. "By no means is it the end of the process."

Go deeper

Biden plans to ask public to wear masks for first 100 days in office

Joe Biden. Photo: Mark Makela/Gettu Images

President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris sat down with CNN on Thursday for their first joint interview since the election.

The big picture: In the hour-long segment, the twosome laid out plans for responding to the pandemic, jump-starting the economy and managing the transition of power, among other priorities.

The quick FCC fix that would get more students online

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

As the pandemic forces students out of school, broadband deployment programs aren't going to move fast enough to help families in immediate need of better internet access. But Democrats at the Federal Communications Commission say the incoming Biden administration could put a dent in that digital divide with one fast policy change.

State of play: An existing FCC program known as E-rate provides up to $4 billion for broadband at schools, but Republican FCC chairman Ajit Pai has resisted modifying the program during the pandemic to provide help connecting students at home.

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets
49 mins ago - Politics & Policy

America's hidden depression

Biden introduces his pick for Treasury secretary, Janet Yellen, on Dec. 1. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

President-elect Biden faces a fragile recovery that could easily fall apart, as the economy remains in worse shape than most people think.

Why it matters: There is a recovery happening. But it's helping some people immensely and others not at all. And it's that second part that poses a massive risk to the Biden-Harris administration's chance of success.