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Baltimore lawsuit blames oil and gas companies for climate change

By Makini Brice
Cars are seen waiting on traffic as they enter Baltimore, Maryland November 5, 2015. For many who knew Ben Carson in Baltimore, his U.S. presidential candidacy comes as a surprise. Over more than three decades as a Baltimore resident ending in 2013, Carson - now a front-runner in the race for the Republican Party nomination - rarely spoke about his political views. An unassailable local hero, a Johns Hopkins Hospital neurosurgeon, Carson put his wealth to use helping the poor. He established a scholarship program for school children and hosted a banquet each year to honor its recipients. Picture taken November 5, 2015. REUTERS/Carlos Barria - GF20000048636

By Makini Brice

(Reuters) - The city of Baltimore filed a lawsuit on Friday against 26 oil and gas companies and entities, including BP Plc , Chevron Corp and Exxon Mobil Corp, for knowingly contributing to what the city called the catastrophic consequences of climate change.

It was the latest in a string of cases attempting to hold oil and gas companies responsible for climate change caused by carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels. It came a day after a U.S. District Court judge dismissed a similar suit by New York City, saying in his ruling that climate change must be addressed through federal regulation and foreign policy because climate change is a global problem.

Baltimore is vulnerable to any rise in sea level because it has 60 miles (96 km) of coastline and one of the country's largest ports, according to the complaint, which points to research linking oil and gas production with rising sea levels.

The lawsuit, filed in Baltimore Circuit Court, says Baltimore has been impacted by sea level rise and climate change leading to "property damage, economic injuries and impacts to public health." It says the Baltimore area has suffered two 1,000-year storms within three years.

The lawsuit accuses oil and gas companies of knowing about a link between climate change and fossil fuel production for nearly 50 years, yet working to hide the dangers and protect their assets rather than minimize the damage.

The complaint seeks unspecified damages, penalties and relief.

"These oil and gas companies ... could have warned us. They could have taken steps to minimize or avoid the damage. In fact, they had a responsibility to do both, but they didn't, and that's why we are taking them to court," city solicitor Andre Davis said in a statement.

Also among those named as defendants are ConocoPhillips, Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Phillips 66, Marathon Oil Corp, CNX Resources Corp, Hess Corp and Consol Energy Inc.

Spokespeople for Shell and Chevron said the companies support efforts to address climate change or limit global warning, but those initiatives should be addressed outside of lawsuits.

"We believe climate change is a complex societal challenge that should be addressed through sound government policy and cultural change ... not by the courts," Shell spokesman Curtis Smith said in an email.

A Phillips 66 spokesman declined to comment, and a CNX Resources spokesman said the company had not yet been served so was unable to comment. Spokespeople for the other oil companies were not immediately available to comment.

(Reporting by Makini Brice; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Leslie Adler)