Member of the Force of Nature Alliance protested outside of city hall prior to a council meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 23. Patrick Penner photoPatrick Penner, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

An environmental group will get its chance to convince Port Moody council to have the city join a class action lawsuit against the fossil fuel industry.

Sue Big Oil is a campaign started by the non-profit Westcoast Environmental Law (WCEL), aiming to rally enough B.C. municipalities to certify a class action suit against multinational corporations and recoup significant expenses related to climate change.

“We’re paying for all the costs of climate change, and right now, the fossil fuel industry isn’t paying any,” said Fiona Koza, a strategist with WCEL. “This is just an obvious way – a fiscally responsible way – rather than passing on the cost of climate change to taxpayers.”

The movement to get the City of Port Moody to sign onto the campaign is being led by local environmental group, Force of Nature Alliance (FNA).

On Tuesday, Jan. 23, the group won a modest victory after staging a small protest outside Port Moody City Hall over the city’s previous refusal to hear their delegation on the basis the city had no jurisdiction.

Council voted unanimously to back off the policy, and scheduled a new for Feb. 13.

Three FNA members spoke during Tuesday’s public input period, along with a lawyer for WCEL, urging the city to reconsider its position.

Mark Norbury of FNA referenced the expenses related to Port Moody’s Climate Action Plan, which are estimated to cost up to $11.7 million by 2040.

He said it was “irrational” for the city to claim these costs are outside the city’s jurisdiction, and the city had provided no clarification on their reasoning.

“These costs are set to rise annually as climate related events occur with greater frequency each year,” Norbury said. “Where will the city get this additional revenue from? Our city’s budget is already strained as it is.”

He also noted that Port Moody council passed a resolution in 2019, requesting the province take legal action against fossil fuel companies.

Another FNA member, Justin Arsenault, said regardless of council member’s opinion on the delegation, it was their responsibility to hear from the group.

“I think that this is really fundamental to the democratic process in this city,” he said.

Andrew Gage, an environmental lawyer with WCEL, said the city’s claim that it doesn’t have jurisdiction came as a: “considerable surprise.”

The corporate policy in question states that non-jurisdictional are defined as issues where council does not have legal, financial, geographic, or operational effect. 

The suit “clearly affects all these areas,” Gage said.  “None of the local governments we’ve engaged with before suggested they don’t have jurisdiction. . . . You have a duty to hear from your constituents.”

He noted that 28 law professors in Canada have recommended local governments bring class action lawsuits against the industry, similar to past lawsuits against tobacco and asbestos companies.

Couns. Amy Lubik, Haven Lurbiecki and Diana Dilworth spoke in favour of hearing the delegation.

Council frequently hears items that fall outside its jurisdiction, according to Lubik.

She referenced their support for $10-day-daycare, PharmaCare, as well past advocacy for causes at the Union of BC Municipalities and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

“Port Moody has a history of supporting climate justice, this is very much climate justice, and climate-related costs are definitely a part of that,” Lubik said. “Whether or not we believe in it personally, I think it’s really important to hear.”

Lurbiecki said she “completely disagreed” the issue falls outside their jurisdiction, as they are the only body that can decide whether the city will join the suit.

She said the city’s previous interpretation of their corporate policy was subjective, and the whole policy should be reviewed.

“We are the only city that has refused to hear from this delegation,” Lurbiecki said. “We are not living in a different legal reality than other local governments.”

Gibsons, Squamish, and View Royal have already signed on to the class action, and WCEL needs municipalities representing 500,000 residents to sign on to have the suit certified.

Koza said they are hoping to get all B.C. municipalities to sign on, and they aren’t targeting specific communities, but being led by local groups lobbying their local representatives.

She admited the three municipalities already participating are relatively small, but several larger communities are currently taking the legal action under consideration.

Once there is a “critical mass,” Koza said WCEL will seek certification, identify a lead plaintiff, hire a class action legal firm, and decide which companies to target.

“Were suggesting the five largest companies because they’re the most responsible.”

The idea to sue the fossil fuel industry is not new. 

More than 40 US cities and states are pursuing similar legal action, including the State of California, New York City, New Jersey, San Francisco, Honolulu, and most recently, Multnomah County in Oregon.

She said Honolulu’s case has advanced the furthest, however, none have yet gone through the courts.

“The U.S. is leading the way,” Koza said. 

Koza said she doesn’t think that Port Moody’s ongoing relationship with Imperial Oil, which operates a terminal on the end of Ioco Road, should rule out its participation. She noted the State of California is suing Chevron directly, and it is headquartered in the state.

By Patrick Penner, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jan 25, 2024 at 16:24

This item reprinted with permission from   Tri-Cities Dispatch   Coquitlam, British Columbia

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