The heat wave inflicted a significant economic strain on the county, leading to what the county describes as a "crushing economic burden." This is a representational image. SimpleImages/Gettyimages

On Thursday, Multnomah County in Oregon filed a lawsuit against Exxon (XOM.N), Chevron (CVX.N), along with other major oil and coal companies, as well as industry groups, seeking more than $50 billion in damages to address the detrimental effects caused by climate change-induced extreme weather.

According to the lawsuit filed in a state court in Portland, Multnomah County accused fossil fuel companies and trade groups such as the American Petroleum Institute of deliberate deception regarding the hazards associated with burning their products over several decades.

The county argued that these companies and trade groups are now responsible for contributing financially towards the past and future damages resulting from the extreme weather events, including the 2021 heat wave in the Pacific Northwest, which claimed the lives of numerous individuals.

The lawsuit asserts that instead of acknowledging the risks associated with climate change, the fossil fuel industry actively worked to undermine the established scientific consensus by employing tactics such as pseudo-science, manufactured doubt, and an extensively funded public relations campaign to promote their narrative.

In addition to the fossil fuel companies, the lawsuit also aims at McKinsey, a consulting firm accused of advising major oil companies on strategies to downplay or deny the connection between greenhouse gas emissions and extreme weather events.

In response to the lawsuit, Theodore Boutrous, an attorney representing Chevron, stated that such legal actions are counterproductive and divert attention from the pursuit of effective international policy solutions.

He described the claims made by the county as baseless and in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

A spokesperson for the American Petroleum Institute dismissed the lawsuit, along with similar legal actions, as meritless and claimed that they waste taxpayer resources.

McKinsey did not provide an immediate response to a comment request.

The current lawsuit is part of a growing trend where numerous states and municipalities in the United States have filed multiple lawsuits against the fossil fuel industry.

These legal actions broadly claim that the industry is responsible for causing damages related to climate change, including the impacts of extreme weather events.

In response to these lawsuits, the American Petroleum Institute and oil companies have argued that policies addressing climate change should be determined by the federal executive branch and Congress.

They maintain that a fragmented approach through court cases across different jurisdictions is not the most effective way to tackle the issue.

According to the county, they have already started witnessing the adverse impacts of climate change.

One notable event was the 2021 "heat dome," which resulted in scorching temperatures reaching 116 degrees Fahrenheit (46.6 degrees Celsius) in Multnomah County, including Portland.

Given that the region typically experiences mild weather, the lawsuit highlights that residents were ill-prepared to handle such extreme heat, lacking necessary resources like air conditioners.

The county further claims that 69 individuals in the area lost their lives due to overheating during the heat wave, Reuters reported.

Additionally, the heat wave inflicted a significant economic strain on the county, leading to what the county describes as a "crushing economic burden."

The lawsuit asserts that the recent heat wave and other extreme weather occurrences such as wildfires are a direct and anticipated outcome of the fossil fuel industry's prolonged sale of their products, despite being aware of the associated dangers.

Multnomah County is pursuing a monetary compensation of $50 million to reimburse their previous initiatives aimed at safeguarding public health, safety, and property from heat waves and wildfires.

Additionally, they seek a minimum of $1.5 billion for anticipated future damages and a minimum of $50 billion to establish an abatement fund.

The abatement fund's purpose would be to support research and implement measures that mitigate climate-related harms.

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