Federal court will hold first-ever hearing on climate change science

Mar 7, 2018 at 5:00am

By Stuart Leavenworth

A U.S. District Court in San Francisco will be the setting for a first-ever hearing on the science of climate change, scheduled for March 21 by William Alsup, a federal judge Jeff Chiu.

A federal judge in San Francisco has ordered parties in a landmark global warming lawsuit to hold what could be the first-ever U.S. court hearing on the science of climate change.

The proceeding, scheduled for March 21 by U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup, will feature lawyers for Exxon, BP, Chevron and other oil companies pitted against those for San Francisco and Oakland — California cities that have accused fossil fuel interests of covering up their role in contributing to global warming.

“This will be the closest that we have seen to a trial on climate science in the United States, to date,” said Michael Burger, a lawyer who heads the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University.

Experts on both sides say Alsup’s call for a climate change “tutorial” is unlike anything they’ve heard of before.

“I don’t know of any judge who has asked for a tutorial like this,” said Steven E. Koonin, a physicist and former Energy Department undersecretary known for his contrarian views on global warming research. “I think it is a great idea. Anybody having to make a decision about climate science needs to understand the full spectrum of what we know and what we don’t know.”

In the five-hour hearing, both the cities and the oil companies will have a chance to present Alsup with their views on the history of climate change science, and the most important recent findings in the field.

Alsup ordered the tutorial as part of his ruling last week that the San Francisco and Oakland lawsuit would be heard in federal court, as opposed to California state court. The cities had hoped their lawsuit would be heard in state court, since California has an established “public nuisance” law that hasn’t been developed in the federal court system.

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