Climate lawsuit could hamper state’s economy

August 29, 2023

As concerns over climate change continue to grow, governments, businesses and individuals worldwide are taking steps to prioritize climate change and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. However, here in our state, it is important to strike a balance between safeguarding the planet and ensuring the vitality of local economies. In Delaware, Attorney General Kathy Jennings’ aggressive pursuit of a climate-related lawsuit has unintended consequences that may hamper the state's economy and undermine our reputation as an attractive destination for investment.

Delaware’s Justice Department has been at the forefront of legal action against energy producers and their alleged climate-related impacts. In 2020, Delaware filed suit against 31 fossil fuel companies specifically accusing them of deceiving the public about their contribution to climate change and damaging the state's environment. More recently in May, the U.S. Supreme Court turned down a petition to hear the arguments about moving the case to federal court, thereby leaving the lawsuit to proceed in Delaware Superior Court. Nonetheless, Delaware’s lawsuit has raised significant concerns among the business community and job creators. And, critically important, Delaware’s public nuisance law does not recognize the allegations attributable to lawful products like natural gas and oil that our state’s residents depend on every day. By targeting companies that produce and sell these essential products, the State of Delaware may create an atmosphere of economic uncertainty that discourages investment and hinders economic growth. Delaware’s state court should ultimately dismiss this harmful suit. 

Delaware’s favorable business climate is home to several industries that contribute significantly to our economic prosperity. However, legal actions against these industries risk eroding the state's competitiveness. By imposing liabilities and potential damages on companies that provide vital resources to run our economy, we may be inadvertently discouraging businesses from operating within Delaware's borders. This trend, which also includes this legislative session’s polystyrene ban, can lead to job losses, reduced tax revenues and, ultimately, a weakened state economy.

While focusing on climate litigation, our state’s public officials may be overlooking the pressing economic challenges facing Delaware. As the state confronts issues such as unemployment, education, and infrastructure, valuable resources are being diverted toward legal battles. This misguided allocation of resources can hinder economic growth and diminish the ability to tackle immediate concerns that directly affect the lives of Delaware residents. Rather than contributing to a concerning trend, I am of the mind that our decision makers should shift their focus toward effective policies and practical solutions that encourage upward mobility among our state’s population. 

I view my bill SB65 from the 151st General Assembly as a prime example of this sort of lawmaking – a bill that was passed unanimously in both chambers and centers on tuition assistance for Delaware residents who are pursuing alternative skills. The Ready-in-Six package of bills is another example of business-friendly legislation. By streamlining Delaware’s cumbersome permitting process, we can make our state a more competitive place to do business as well as improve the quality of life for our citizens. 

Delaware officials have unfortunately advanced several measures that will negatively affect our state. Chief among those examples is Delaware’s climate lawsuit, which may also have adverse effects on consumers. As businesses face mounting legal costs and uncertainty, they are often left with no choice but to pass these expenses on to Delaware’s consumers. With inflation running rampant, extra expenses are an avoidable harm to Delawareans, especially when they seem to only benefit out-of-state trial attorneys. 

A thriving business community in the First State benefits all Delawareans, and our decision makers should handle climate change in a manner that is collaborative between the state, businesses, and the people. In sum, the Delaware Way has brought us prosperity and an unmatched reputation for business investment; that legacy should not be abandoned.

Brian Pettyjohn is the state senator for Delaware’s 19th District. 


  • Cape Gazette commentaries are written by readers whose occupations, education, community positions or demonstrated focus in particular areas offer an opportunity to expand our readership's understanding or awareness of issues of interest.

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