CPR Member Scholar Daniel Farber originally wrote this commentary for The Appeal.
Big Tobacco’s Master Settlement Agreement in 1998 was the largest civil settlement in the nation’s history and a transformative moment in the industry’s control. The accord reached by 46 states, five United States territories, and the District of Columbia required tobacco manufacturers to pay the states billions of dollars annually in compensation for the public health crisis their products had created.
Today, an even bigger crisis looms, with increasing demands for accountability. Over a dozen federal cases have now been filed against oil companies, seeking damages for their role in causing climate change. With one exception, the cases have been brought by states or local governments that claim they and their citizens are suffering harm from climate change. (The exception is a case brought by Pacific Coast fishing companies for harm to the oceans.) The oil companies have made it clear that they will fight every inch of the way, with all of their considerable resources, against these lawsuits.
One aspect of these cases is clear: oil sold by U.S. companies is a major contributor to climate change. Twenty fossil fuel companies account …