Currents – Energy Industry Insights: V 7, Issue 11, November 2023 | Spilman Thomas & Battle, PLLC

“Pennsylvania and Ohio — two major fossil fuel-producing states — are emerging as unlikely battlegrounds in local governments’ sprawling legal fight to put the oil and gas industry on the hook for the costs of climate change.”


Why this is important: Who will pick up the tab for climate change? Supporters at the Center for Climate Integrity are urging municipal governments in Ohio and Pennsylvania to realize the financial impact climate change will have on their budgets as extreme weather conditions continue. At present, tax payers will foot the bill.


The Center for Climate Integrity released a report in July, which estimates that by 2040, Pennsylvania will need to spend nearly $1 billion a year to protect residents from extreme heat, rising seas, and heavy rains and snow. The Center’s Ohio report released in 2022 estimated that municipalities in the state would need to increase spending to $5.9 billion per year by midcentury to adapt to climate change.


What is the hold up? Pennsylvania and Ohio are not exactly anti-oil & gas, hence the intention of the Center’s reports. Pennsylvania is second only to Texas in estimated natural gas reserves, and Ohio accounts for roughly 5 percent of U.S. natural gas production. While pitched as a tax break for citizens or retribution for bad acts, judgments levied against oil and gas companies in these energy rich states would also cause significant disruptions in the job market and political arena.


While far from Texas and its state restriction on contracts with financial firms that ‘boycott’ fossil fuels, no climate litigation has been initiated or effectively discussed in Pennsylvania or Ohio that would bring about the financial retribution from energy producers. Further, leaders in the oil and gas space claim foreign interests are behind the Center and are using it as a tool to halt development and progress in the United States energy sector through costly litigation.


This is not to say nothing is happening. Several Democratic city council leaders have spoken out and generally blamed “polluters” for not doing their fair share. Former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf’s efforts to bring the state into a regional carbon reduction program in 2019 were thwarted by Republican law makers and “hard-hat Democrats.”


Therefore, the lines are blurred when it comes to oil and gas industries paying up. The climate consequences are already here; however, whenever climate litigation catches up, many fear it will create a new kind of storm – one of the economic variety. Pennsylvania and Ohio are target jurisdictions for climate litigation because of their prominent reserves. The East Coast has already been the center for climate litigation, with cases in New York, Vermont, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Maryland and more. A “win” for the Center in Ohio or Pennsylvania could spell disruption in price, supply, and employment for the same municipalities that could bring claims.


Regardless of the method, if companies do not contribute, tax payers will soon feel the extreme effects of climate change in their wallets and the weather. — Sophia L. Hines

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