homepage logo

Maui County may file suit against fossil fuel companies

By Staff | Nov 7, 2019

King Tide flooding impacted Honoapiilani Highway near Mile Marker 14 in Olowalu in July. PHOTO BY ASA ELLISON.

WAILUKU – Mayor Michael Victorino last week announced his intention that Maui County file suit against fossil fuel companies for the mounting impacts of climate change and rising sea levels. There is no date set for filing the lawsuit.

Maui County has four islands and more than 200 miles of coastline.

“So far this year, brush fires have devoured about 23,000 acres – almost six times more wild land than the approximately 4,000 acres in all of 2018 – and we still have two more months before the end of this year,” Victorino said.

“This lawsuit is about accountability. Fossil fuel companies knew – their own experts warned them – about the potentially ‘severe’ or ‘catastrophic’ effects of doing business as usual, and the damage that could be caused by producing, marketing and selling their products.”

“Fossil fuel companies could have taken steps to reduce damage or warn people about the danger from continued use of products that harm the environment,” Mayor Victorino continued.

A photo taken in 2016 of coastal erosion at Kaanapali Beach Club in Honokowai. PHOTO BY TARA OWENS.

“Instead, they’ve promoted and marketed their products and made billions in profits, all the while protecting their own assets from the damages they knew would occur. They’ve undertaken a campaign to undermine their own science that predicted global warming and its devastating impacts. We can no longer allow fossil fuel companies to shift the cost of paying for the effects of sea level rise and climate change to our taxpayers.”

“Large brush fires, rising sea levels, more frequent and severe heat waves, droughts and extreme rainfall require action to protect people, property and infrastructure. Rising sea levels will inundate coastal roads, buildings, homes, parks and our treasured beaches that draw visitors to our islands. Erosion and wave action could wipe out miles of Honoapiilani Highway, the main lifeline for motorists to get to and from homes, resorts and business areas in West Maui.”

Rising sea levels and projections of stronger and more frequent El Nino events and tropical cyclones indicate a growing statewide vulnerability to coastal flooding and erosion and other impacts of severe weather.

Rising sea levels are already affecting Maui County’s natural environment, critical public infrastructure, public and private property and its economy.

Sea level rise is likely to reach 3.2 feet globally as soon as 2060 and continue rising for centuries, according to the county.

“Much of the land designated for urban land uses will be adversely affected by sea level rise, so we need to plan for that now, Mayor Victorino said. “We can expect impacts on tourism, harbors, airports, infrastructure pump stations, water and sewer lines and roadways.”

According to the University of Hawaii Sea Grant Program, West Maui is most at risk of economic loss from structures and land damaged by an anticipated sea level rise of 3.2 feet.

West Maui damages are estimated at $1.9 billion. Other impacted areas include Kihei-Makena, $980.8 million; Wailuku-Kahului, $289.8 million; Molokai, $284.8 million; Paia-Haiku, $81 million; Hana, $11.1 million; and Lanai, $10 million.

“Someone needs to pay,” Mayor Victorino said. “Fossil fuel companies have caused the substantial share of all industrial greenhouse gas pollution for the past 50-plus years. Science clearly shows that burning fossil fuels has led to sea level rise and other environmental impacts that scientists report will get worse, perhaps much worse, in the years to come.”

Bringing suit in this matter involves the cooperation of the Maui County Council to authorize retention of attorneys with special expertise in this area of law.

“With the council’s support, we will fight back by going to court to hold these companies accountable for the ongoing harm caused by their products and the costs being handed over to taxpayers,” Mayor Victorino concluded.