June 23 (UPI) -- Oregon's Multnomah County has filed a multibillion-dollar lawsuit against several major fossil fuel companies, accusing them of being responsible for the deadly 2021 Pacific Northwest heat wave.
The lawsuit, filed Thursday, is seeking $50 million in damages for the heat wave and $1.5 billion in future damages from companies including Exxon Mobil, Shell, Peabody Energy, ConocoPhillips and others.
The county is also seeking another $50 billion to study, plan and upgrade the public healthcare industry and infrastructure to prepare the count for expected future extreme heat events.
"This lawsuit is about accountability and fairness, and I believe the people of Multnomah County deserve both," Jessica Vega Pederson, chair of Multnomah County, said in a statement.
"These businesses knew their products were unsafe and harmful, and they lied about it. They have profited massively from their lies and left the rest of us to suffer the consequences and pay for the damages. We say enough is enough."
During the summer of 2021, Multnomah County experienced a heat wave during which temperatures reached as high as 116 degrees Fahrenheit. Sixty-nine people died due to the extreme weather, compared to zero heat-related deaths that the county experiences in a typical year.
The county argues in the lawsuit that greenhouse gas emissions produced by the consumption of the defendants' products have contributed to global warming and catastrophic climate change events, such as the heat dome of 2021 that Multnomah experienced.
The lawsuit states that the companies for decades knew of the consequences of greenhouse gases but lied to the public about it in order to safeguard their bottom lines.
"Defendants' false and misleading promotion and sale of fossil fuel products are causes-in-fact of and substantial factors that caused the extreme heat event that struck the County beginning on June 25, 2021, two similar heat events that occurred in 2022, another in May 2023, as well as causing an increase in the frequency and severity of wildfires, which in turn were made more frequent and more severe by two decades of drought," the county argues in the lawsuit.
"Because defendants have polluted the atmosphere with enormous amounts of methane and carbon dioxide, which remain aloft for decades, and they continue to do so without restraint, extreme heat events will reoccur with increasing intensity and frequency."
The damages the county seeks are due to it lacking sufficient resources to prepare for future harm caused by the defendants' actions, it said.
"We will show that fossil fuel-induced global warming is already costing Oregonians lives and treasure," attorney Roger Worthington said in a statement. "We will show that the normal use of fossil fuel products over time has imposed massive external, unpriced and untraded social, economic and environmental costs on the County."