“Who Told You The Earth Was Getting Warmer – Chicken Little?”

That’s the slogan of an infamous 1991 oil industry ad, one of many in a decades-long barrage of misinformation tactics. These types of ads were designed to cast doubt on the science that demonstrated the catastrophic effects of burning fossil fuel industry products – science that had already been internally socialized and buried by oil industry giants. from the 1950s.

Maybe now, finally, Chicken Little is coming home to roost.

It’s been nearly two years since Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison filed a lawsuit against three oil industry giants, arguing claims based on state law that prohibits consumer fraud , deceptive marketing practices and advertising misrepresentations.

On March 15, the United States Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit will hear oral arguments to determine whether Minnesota v. American Petroleum Institute (API), ExxonMobil and Koch Industries will proceed in state court, where it was filed and where a federal district judge recently agreed he should stay.

Fossil fuel groups have fought to escape liability, arguing that Minnesota’s lawsuit should instead be heard in federal court, which polluters hope will be more favorable to their case. But District Court Judge John Tunheim dismissed their arguments, called their attacks on the Minnesota case a “caricature” and called the state’s case a “well-litigated consumer protection action.” The oil companies appealed the decision to the 8th Circuit and the case was stayed while the appeal is pending.

In similar cases across the United States – in Maryland, Hawaii, Delaware, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts and California – federal courts have agreed that the state court is the appropriate place for cases to hold polluters accountable. More recently, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a similar ruling, rejecting a series of arguments made by Exxon to move a climate liability lawsuit from several Colorado communities to federal court.

Oil companies are trying to change the narrative around these cases, which seek to hold them accountable for spreading lies about their products and climate change, in order to distract from their law-breaking tactics and deceptive business practices. . Their arguments for sending the cases to the Federal Court rest on misinterpreting the cases as being about broadcast regulation rather than their own corruption.

In its legal arguments and in today’s political environment, Big Oil is maneuvering to position the climate crisis as just another divisive political issue subject to congressional gridlock, just another gridlock in an unsolvable culture war.

Don’t make a mistake. Minnesota’s case against these oil giants is about fraud and violations of our state’s strict consumer protection laws and, for those reasons, belongs in our state court. Without diminishing the need for lawmakers to create and enforce carbon emissions regulations, in this lawsuit and many other similar cases that have followed, the focus is on the decades of corporate wrongdoing in the oil industry.

When you create a product that you learn is catastrophically dangerous and has safer alternatives, and the danger of your product has been verified by well-established science – science that your own researchers have surfaced and agree – and you cover it up and mislead the public about the dangers of your product, you have committed a crime that carries significant penalties, just as Big Tobacco has done for decades and has been punished accordingly.

Almost in sync with the upcoming circuit court hearing, the Minnesota House Climate Action Caucus recently released a bold $1.1 billion climate action plan for Minnesota and offered to fund it from the budget surplus. forecast of $9.25 billion. This ambitious plan aims to protect the environment, our health, create jobs and reduce energy costs for all Minnesotans. Not only does it provide much-needed investment in renewable energy and transport infrastructure, but it also invests significantly in strategies for adaptation and resilience in the face of current and future damages from climate change.

The Climate Action Plan and its important but necessary price also raises an important question about accountability. Why should government and taxpayers be made to pay for environmental resilience and recovery after decades of deception driven solely by oil industry greed? Similar questions were asked decades ago about the tobacco industry, and justice prevailed.

In 1998, Minnesota led the way with the first state lawsuit to be tried against Big Tobacco. This resulted in $6.5 billion awarded to the State of Minnesota and Blue Cross Blue Shield and ultimately a $206 billion national settlement against the tobacco industry. It exposed Big Tobacco’s long history of misleading marketing, advertising and research and ultimately forced the industry to change its business practices.

Now it’s Big Oil’s turn. Minnesota deserves its day in state court.

Michael Rockhold of Long Lake is a climate activist, IT manager and volunteer with the statewide climate justice group MN350.

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