by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Last summer, the leaders of Multnomah County—the liberal Oregon enclave that includes most of Portland—filed a high-profile lawsuit seeking $1.5 billion in damages from the world’s top oil and gas producers. Exxon, Shell, BP, and others, county leaders argued in their complaint, knew that their “fossil fuel products” caused “catastrophic harm” but told the public otherwise, thus making those companies liable for a heat wave that struck the Beaver State in 2021.
The county’s complaint made reference to “the world’s largest oil companies” and laid out their “international operations,” through which the companies produce millions of barrels of oil per day. Left-wing media coverage of the suit also emphasized the defendants’ global reach: The Guardian said the suit targeted “major oil and gas companies,” while Mother Jones touted the county’s work to take on “Big Oil.”
One defendant included in the county’s complaint, however, was not mentioned in those stories. That defendant, Space Age Fuel, is not among “the world’s largest oil companies.” Its operations are also not “international”—they’re limited to the Pacific Northwest. And unlike the other defendants named in the suit, Space Age produces no oil. The company operates a chain of Oregon gas stations and transports fuel around the state.
Multnomah County’s suit nonetheless lumps Space Age together with the oil industry’s global leaders, a move that attorneys say isn’t truly aimed at collecting damages from the local company. Instead, those attorneys argue, Multnomah County’s targeting of Space Age is a cynical move to keep the suit away from federal court—and in front of state judges who are more likely to rule against oil and gas companies.
The tactic reflects a broader emerging strategy from the left in its bid to bludgeon the conventional energy industry in favor of a green transition.