Ravi Bhalla, Mayor of Hoboken—a densely populated urban enclave sitting at sea level along the mouth of the Hudson River—has announced that the City will sue fossil fuel companies over the ongoing impacts of flooding. The basis for the suit is the collective and demonstrable denial of climate change by oil companies.
“As a coastal community, Hoboken has directly felt the impacts of climate change, including rising sea levels and more frequent storms,” said Mayor Bhalla. “At the same time we’ve invested hundreds of millions of dollars adapting to the realities of climate change, Big Oil companies have engaged in a decades long campaign of misinformation that has contributed to global warming which has disproportionately impacted our residents. We cannot stand idly by and allow Big Oil to continue profiting at the expense of Hoboken residents. It’s time these companies pay their fair share and be held accountable for their actions.”
Hoboken’s lawsuit seeks to recover the cumulative cost of hundreds of millions of dollars to compensate the City for past, current and future costs associated with climate change adaptation, remediation, and economic losses. The City alleges violations of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, as well as claims for negligence and common law remedies to prevent and abate hazards to public health, safety, welfare and the environment.
Bhalla made the announcement today at a gymnasium built next to a resiliency park, part of Hoboken’s evolving network of floodwater mitigation systems designed to absorb heavy rainfalls and/or storm surge from extreme weather events. Directly adjacent to the resiliency park at 7th & Jackson is a 14-story 424-unit luxury apartment building at the base of the Palisades. Historically, that land is swampland that was carved out by the mouth of the Hudson River. Every so often, in the wake of heavy rain events, the river returns to reassert itself along the City’s western side and in various low-lying pockets across Hoboken.
You may not see it now at our new park at 7th/Jackson but installed underground is a detention system to withhold 450,000+ gallons of rain to mitigate flooding. Our parks are a part of a comprehensive strategy to make Hob more resilient from heavy rain, effects of climate change pic.twitter.com/DH5g5SQRzL
— Ravinder S. Bhalla (@RaviBhalla) July 1, 2019
Just this year alone, Hoboken has seen significant “50-year” flooding events within days of each other. The day after the second flood on July 22, Bhalla issued a remarkably candid statement, saying, “To be completely straightforward–given Hoboken’s low-lying typography and location right next to the Hudson River, even with unlimited funding, we are unlikely to solve the most severe of storms (50-year flooding event or worse), like we experienced yesterday. Most of Hoboken, especially the western part of the City, was developed on land that was previously tidal wetlands from the Hudson River. NHSA estimates that to prevent the most severe of flooding events, like the storm we saw yesterday, we would need to replace our entire sewer system, which would cost an estimated $3 billion. Needless to say, this is an impractical solution.”
Among Hoboken’s ambitious initiatives currently being carried out is the Rebuild By Design program, bringing nearly a quarter of a billion dollars to the City for the installation of a number of retention systems and pumps. The concept was intended to alleviate flooding after the world witnessed the wholesale devastation of Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
“I remember almost like it was yesterday, the destruction that was caused by Superstorm Sandy and how the Hoboken Housing Authority, its buildings, and most importantly its residents took the brunt of that destruction,” said LaTrenda Ross, former co-chair of the Hoboken Rebuild by Design Community Advisory Group, and former resident of the Hoboken Housing Authority. “Our communities should not have to worry about rainstorms impacting their daily lives, let alone a Superstorm that threatens the future of our City. I fully support Mayor Bhalla’s decision to take on the fossil fuel companies because for too long the residents of Hoboken and the Hoboken Housing Authority have been on the wrong end of the abuse of our climate.”
Nearly eight years after Sandy, flooding continues to be a massive issue in Hoboken. The 5-acre Northwest Park is being built on contaminated former industrial land to hold 2 million gallons of water in the event of heavy deluge. Just to the north of that site, another substantial new mixed use development has just been approved for construction.
“Hoboken is a national leader on climate change and now they are taking on Big Oil and Fossil Fuel companies for climate damages. The city is using the principle of polluter pay. The fossil fuel industry has been deliberately misleading the public and withholding information on their impact on climate change and the risks involved. It is critical that Hoboken is stepping up, especially now when hurricanes, wildfires, and more are getting worse and severe impacts are becoming more expensive. Hoboken has spent hundreds of millions of dollars from Superstorm Sandy and creating resiliency and mitigation programs. Now they are going to court to hold those responsible for those damages,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “Hoboken has created their own climate action plan, opposed an unneeded fossil fuel power plant, moved forward on electric vehicles, bike sharing programs, is a leader in green jobs and renewable energy and have now set a precedent for New Jersey to go after Big Oil. We thank Mayor Bhalla and the Hoboken City Council for their leadership. They are the first city in New Jersey that will join 19 other cities, states and counties in these lawsuits and we hope others will join too.”
According to a press release from the City of Hoboken, Big Oil companies were purposefully casting doubt on the validity of climate change and global warming to protect billion dollar profits, while simultaneously updating their own facilities to adapt to rising sea levels. In 1998, the American Petroleum Institute, along with executives from Exxon, Chevron and other fossil fuel companies initiated a “Global Science Communications Team” that concluded “Victory will Be Achieved When” doubts about climate science become mainstream. At nearly the same time, Shell spent billions of dollars accounting for rising sea levels due to global warming to raise the height of its drilling rigs. The City asserts that Big Oil has consistently known about the impacts of their products and climate change, yet engaged in deceptive practices that have led to outsized impacts on coastal communities like Hoboken.
“Fossil fuel companies like Exxon Mobil, Shell, and BP have earned billions and billions of dollars selling a product they knew was causing climate change and harm to human health, leading us to this critical tipping point in human history. They researched and documented the science, actively smothered it and spent millions to promote misinformation about the role fossil fuels play in the climate crisis,” said Ed Potosnak, Executive Director of the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters. “We applaud Hoboken Mayor, Ravi Bhalla, and his team because these major polluting corporations need to be held responsible for the damage they have caused, which has particularly impacted the most vulnerable, low-income communities of color. The time is now for action against these fossil fuel companies so they can help pay our doctors bills and foot the cost of rebuilding to protect us from rising sea levels and the flooding and damage from more frequent and intense storms.”
“It’s exciting to see the city of Hoboken take the climate fight to the doorstep of the fossil fuel corporations who have caused the crisis we find ourselves in,” said Michael Watson of The Climate Mobilization, Hoboken Chapter. “These companies knew for decades that they were making our world uninhabitable, and they lied to the American people about it. Hurricane Sandy devastated our city, and it’s time that those responsible reimbursed Hoboken for the destruction they caused.”
AUTHOR’S NOTE: In addition to serving as Mayor of Hoboken, Ravi Bhalla holds an “Of Counsel” position with Lavery, Selvaggi, Abromitis & Cohen, P.C.—a New Jersey-based law firm that practices in Zoning, Planning & Land Use and Real Estate.