County of Marin - News Releases - Sea Level Rise Complaint

For Immediate Release
July 17, 2017

Marin Joins Legal Suit vs. Fossil Fuel Giants

County stands up for its residents in the face of impacts from rising sea levels

San Rafael, CA – No stranger to the effects of sea level rise and greenhouse gas emissions, the County of Marin has joined two other jurisdictions in filing complaints in California Superior Court against 37 oil, gas and coal companies. Marin, the County of San Mateo and City of Imperial Beach contend that the companies knew for nearly 50 years that their fossil fuel products would cause sea level rise and coastal flooding but still failed either to warn the public or take steps to reduce their greenhouse gas pollution.

An archive photo of a flooded Manzanita Park and Ride lot in the Tam Junction area.Seasonal flooding, depicted by this inundated parking lot at the Manzanita Park and Ride lot in the Tam Junction area of southern Marin, is becoming more and more commonplace.
The companies, which include Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell, and BP, persisted with fossil fuel production despite scientific research and recommendations from their own experts about its harmful effects, including sea level rise. According to the complaint, the companies “concealed the dangers, sought to undermine public support for greenhouse gas regulation, and engaged in massive campaigns to promote the ever-increasing use of their products at ever greater volumes.”

“Sea level rise is here and we’re experiencing it first hand in Marin, as roadways continually flood with king tides and storms,” said District 3 Supervisor Kate Sears, a member of the Board’s subcommittees for sea level rise and the County’s Climate Action Plan. “The best available science shows billions of dollars of homes, businesses, roads and other facilities, as well as thousands of acres of beaches, wetlands and habitat areas at risk from rising seas and more severe storms. The cost of trying to protect them, and the human anguish over those that will be lost, will be shocking and crippling.”

Along Marin’s San Francisco Bay shoreline alone, an estimated $15.5 billion in assessed property is endangered by projected rises in ocean and bay levels, according to the County’s BayWAVE Vulnerability Assessment, completed in June. More than 12,000 homes, businesses and institutions could be at risk from tides and surge flooding by the year 2100. Sea level rise is expected to adversely affect tourism, transportation, natural attractions, usable living space and other resources. In addition to sea level rise, Marin’s coastal communities are threatened by king tides and flooding, and severe storms will be frequent, longer-lasting, and more damaging.  A separate 2017 state sea level rise assessment projects that bay levels could rise by nearly seven feet by the end of this century if emissions continue unabated.

The County has already spent millions of dollars on projects that help repair lands and infrastructure affected by rising sea levels and planning for its longer-term effects. After years of witnessing and paying for the effects of greenhouse gas emissions, County of Marin officials said enough is enough.

“It’s our responsibility to protect our residents and local businesses, both in this generation and many more to come,” said District 1 Supervisor Damon Connolly, who with Sears is on both the Board’s subcommittees for sea level rise and the County’s Climate Action Plan. “We’re doing our part to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions while educating and empowering our residents to do the same. Now it’s time for major polluters like Big Oil to take responsibility and prioritize the well-being of its customers and neighbors over their profit margins.”

This is the first time California municipalities have filed a complaint of this kind against the fossil fuel industry. Historically, similar actions were taken against Big Tobacco.

The plaintiffs are represented by their respective county and city attorneys, and assisted by outside counsel from San Francisco-based Sher Edling, LLP. The defendants have 30 days from complaint filing date to respond.  The County expects the case to go to trial in about two years. 


Brian Case
Deputy County Counsel
Office of the County Counsel

Marin County Civic Center
3501 Civic Center Drive
San Rafael, CA 94903
(415) 473-6982
Email: Brian Case