But without Justice Ginsberg, can they turn back the tide? Flood-hit city heads to Supreme Court over climate damage
"It's coming like a river of water," a man said in a video filmed by Harris in May 2018, the month when a massive rainstorm led to flooding in nearby Ellicott City, Md., that reached southwest Baltimore.
"Where's it coming from?" the man in the video wondered aloud. "We don't know."
Situated on the Chesapeake Bay, Baltimore is on the precipice of many more flash floods and other events supercharged by global climate change. Rising temperatures worldwide have led to sea-level rise, extreme heat and other impacts that are creating new pressure for infrastructure and public health in Charm City and elsewhere.
The issue has now landed in the Supreme Court — sort of.
In a landmark 2018 lawsuit filed in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, the mayor and City Council argued that companies like BP PLC and Chevron Corp. that have spent decades producing fossil fuels — and spewing greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere — have violated state trespass, public nuisance and consumer protection laws and should be the ones to pay for Baltimore to address climate impacts.
Fine, Baltimore should stop using fossil fuels. Ban cars. Better, ban those fossil fueled ships I see coming into Baltimore constantly.
"[T]he parties who have profited from externalizing the responsibility for sea level rise, extreme precipitation events, heatwaves" are the ones that should bear the cost of addressing those impacts — rather than "local taxpayers, residents, or broader segments of the public," Baltimore argued in its original complaint.
Later this month, the nation's highest bench will weigh in on a highly technical issue stemming from Baltimore's lawsuit that could affect the outcome of this case and many others like it that have been filed in state courts across the country. Oil and gas industry attorneys have argued that the cases instead belong in federal court, where they may face a higher risk of failure.
At the very least, industry lawyers' challenges have significantly delayed proceedings in each climate case.
The question before the Supreme Court in BP v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore is a narrow one related to the venue battle, but if the justices side with industry in the case, it could hurt Baltimore's shot at getting oil and gas firms to foot the bill for climate response.
It's still far too early to tell how much — or even if — energy companies will have to pay state and local governments. It's also unclear how the money would be allocated.
But environmental advocates like Gracie Chaney of the Sunrise Movement Baltimore said they hope that any potential industry payments would be spent on individuals and families facing the largest summer heat and air pollution threats, rather than simply going toward building massive sea walls to block rising tides.
Climate impacts are "exacerbating asthma problems and upper respiratory illnesses, and there's more and more studies coming out finding that it has a very negative impact on pregnancies," Chaney said.
"That's terrifying," she continued. "How do you put a number on damage to ... your health?"
That's just crap.
While the courts dig in on questions over the appropriate venue for Baltimore's climate challenge, the city's coast is getting swallowed up inch by inch.
Sea levels in the Chesapeake Bay rose at twice the rate of the global average in the 20th century, according to Ming Li, professor at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.
Right, 3.2 mm/year, with no apparent change in the rates since monitoring began in the early 1900s, no sign of acceleration or a change in rate due to industrialization:
And yes, that's about twice as fast as areas not impacted by glacial rebound, groundwater withdrawal, and settling into the Chesapeake Bay meteorite crater. Banning SUVs isn't going to help.