New York City is suing three major oil companies over deceptive advertising and marketing, accusing them of hurting consumers by hiding the harm that burning fossil fuels has done to the environment, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced at a Thursday morning press conference.
The lawsuit was one of several environment-related announcements de Blasio made to coincide with Earth Day.
The city is bringing back organic waste collection starting in October, and will double the number of existing compost drop-off sites to 200 citywide. Those sites have collected more than 1.3 million pounds of organic waste over the past seven months, Edward Grayson, the city’s sanitation commissioner, said at the press conference.
De Blasio also pledged to electrify city school buses by 2035, and said the city will also pursue a new law that would require all new parking lots and garages to install electric vehicle charging stations.
The lawsuit, filed Thursday in state court, accuses ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell and BP of violating New York City consumer protection laws, such as by advertising themselves as “corporate leaders in the fight against climate change” and suggesting that certain fuel products have additives that make them burn “cleaner” and have a lesser impact on the environment than other fuels.
“This strategy comes straight out of the advertising playbook of Big Tobacco, which deceptively promoted ‘low tar’ and ‘light’ cigarettes as healthier smoking options, when they knew that any use of cigarettes was harmful,” the lawsuit alleges.
De Blasio framed the suits as continuing the city’s history of consumer advocacy, including with lawsuits against tobacco companies and against manufacturers and creators of opioid drugs.
“There was a lot of success in court with efforts to say that the advertising, the conscious effort to mislead, had horrible human impact,” de Blasio said. “These companies specifically have egregiously broken our laws when it comes to protecting consumers.”
The new suit comes three weeks after a federal appeals court threw out a city suit against five major oil companies, including ExxonMobil, Shell and BP, upholding an earlier dismissal of the case from 2018. The suit sought damages from the companies to help pay for the cost of climate change, which has been primarily caused by greenhouse gas emissions due to burning of fossil fuels.
“These lawsuits have no merit and do nothing to advance meaningful efforts that address climate change,” Casey Norton, a spokesperson for ExxonMobil, said in an emailed response to the new lawsuit. “We support global efforts from policymakers, companies, and individuals to develop real solutions.”
The city’s compost collection program will allow community boards to sign up in August, and will be opt-in, de Blasio said. Before the program shut down during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, it served about 3.5 million residents, de Blasio said.
In 2019, the program helped divert 50,000 tons of organic waste from landfills, Grayson said.
De Blasio said the city plans to expand the program gradually, emphasizing that neighbors will encourage one another to compost.
“It’s something we do need to get to a city-wide level over time, and we need to get people connected to it,” de Blasio said. “It takes some getting used to for people, but it's ultimately a straightforward thing to do.”
The program is part of de Blasio’s stated goal for the city to send no waste to landfills by 2030. More than half of the city’s waste comes from construction and demolition.