SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — The city attorneys of San Francisco and Oakland on Wednesday announced they are filing civil lawsuits against big oil companies for their role in damaging climate change that will impact their cities.

The city attorneys say that because of rising sea levels, the areas known as the Embarcadero on both sides of San Francisco Bay as well as the San Francisco Ferry Building and many other businesses and towers worth billions of dollars could be wiped out. They blame big oil for knowingly causing climate change.

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With the recent extreme weather phenomena, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera says a lawsuit against Big Oil over climate change is a long time coming.

With the back-to-back hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose and now Maria hitting the Caribbean islands and the U.S., 2017 has become a record-breaking hurricane season.

The Bay Area also experienced the hottest temperatures ever on record a few weeks ago.

“The science is undeniable,” said Herrera. “Climate change is altering our planet placing communities at risk.”

Herrera, alongside Oakland’s City Attorney Barbara Parker, are filing separate lawsuits on behalf of each city against the five largest investor-owned producers of fossil fuels in the world: Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP, Royal Dutch Shell and ConocoPhillips.

“Just like Big Tobacco, Big Oil knew the truth long ago,” said Parker.

They said just like tobacco companies who were sued in the 1980s, oil companies created an ongoing so-called public nuisance that is now causing jeopardizing thousands of lives and $49 billion worth of bayside public and private property in Oakland and San Francisco.

“Fossil fuel companies were aware of these effects and continued to use profits at expense of residents,” explained Parker.

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Herrera said studies show that by 2050, a 100-year flood will happen once every year. That means six percent of San Francisco will be inundated by 2100.

Herrera and Parker said that the actions of the oil companies have already led to the rise of sea levels in the Bay Area, with some
scientists projecting as much as 10 feet of sea level rise by the end of the century.

In Oakland, some of the areas most vulnerable to the impacts of sea level rise are neighborhoods where many residents are African American, Hispanic or have low incomes. Those populations tend to live at lower sea levels, where the impacts of flooding associated with storm surge are likely to be more severe.

“This burden will be disproportionately born by the people with the least resources,” Parker said.

Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, called the lawsuit a “bold and necessary step” for the cities of Oakland and San Francisco to protect their communities.

“It is appropriate that people are now looking to the courts, instead of legislators, to help hold fossil fuel companies accountable for their contributions to sea level rise and other climate impacts,” Kimmell said in a statement.

The lawsuits ask the courts to hold the big oil companies responsible for the costs of sea walls and any other infrastructure they need to protect San Francisco and Oakland for any future consequences of climate change and sea level rising.

The two cities’ lawsuits follow similar ones that Marin and San Mateo counties and San Diego County’s City of Imperial Beach filed in July against 37 oil, gas and coal companies for allegedly knowingly contributing to the environmental crisis over a period of nearly 50 years.

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