A Shell oil refinery in Houston. Photo by Roy Luck, via Flickr.

The City of Baltimore is taking on the titans of the energy industry in court. This morning, City Solicitor Andre Davis filed a civil lawsuit in Baltimore City Circuit Court, seeking unspecified damages and penalties from more than two dozen oil and gas companies for their involvement in spurring climate change.

The complaint alleges sea level rise is already happening in Baltimore, that it will continue “through at least the end of the century” and that the city must eventually grapple with the resulting environmental effects. Those include erosion, more frequent extreme weather events and “destruction of built structure and infrastructure,” the lawsuit says.

“Compounding these environmental impacts are cascading social and economic impacts, which cause injuries to the City that will arise out of localized climate changed-related conditions,” the complaint reads.

Oil and gas giants like ExxonMobil, BP, Shell, Crown, Chevron and Citgo are named as defendants; 26 companies are named in all. The complaint alleges eight offenses, including public nuisance, negligent design defect, trespass and violation of the Consumer Protection Act, among others.

Private firm Sher Edling LLP is assisting the city with litigation.

An announcement from Mayor Catherine Pugh’s office accuses the energy companies of “knowingly contributing” to climate change.

“For 50 years, these companies have known their products would cause rising seas and the other climate change-related problems facing Baltimore today,” Davis said in a statement. “They could have warned us. They could have taken steps to minimize or avoid the damage. In fact, they had a responsibility to do both, but they didn’t, and that’s why we are taking them to court.”

The 137-page complaint includes data pointing to the global rise in average temperatures and atmospheric carbon dioxide levels over time, as well as maps of projected flood impacts of “100- and 500-year storms” in the city. It also references recent flash flooding in parts of Baltimore and Ellicott City as examples of catastrophic extreme weather events, which climatologists say is one consequence brought on by climate change.

The lawsuit suggests an act of defiance in the wake of a federal court decision handed down yesterday in New York. A judge there threw out a lawsuit filed by New York City against five of the world’s largest oil and gas companies over their role in contributing to climate change. The judge said Congress and the executive branch—not the federal judiciary—are responsible for tackling such problems.

The Supreme Court in 2011 tossed a lawsuit filed by six states and others against companies over coal emissions for similar reasons, and a federal court recently made a similar decision for a suit filed by San Francisco and Oakland. Other cities’ and counties’ lawsuits are still pending.

Rhode Island became the first state to sue over the matter earlier this month.

Environmentalist and conservation groups praised Baltimore’s lawsuit announcement this morning. Tamara Tamara Toles O’Laughlin, executive director of the Maryland Environmental Health Network, told ThinkProgress the action will help “sound the alarm on the calculable externalities of climate in an age where the facts are known.”

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s president, Will Baker, issued a statement applauding the action from Pugh’s administration.

“The efforts needed to aid the Chesapeake’s recovery are the same that will save our planet: reduce coal plant and vehicle emissions, protect forests, plant trees, and more,” Baker said in a statement. “The status quo is untenable.”

Ethan McLeod is a freelance reporter in Baltimore. He previously worked as an editor for the Baltimore Business Journal and Baltimore Fishbowl. His work has appeared in Bloomberg CityLab, Next City and...