Majority of US voters support holding fossil fuel companies liable for climate change: Survey

A majority of American voters support litigation against oil companies for the effects of climate change, according to a new survey by the left-leaning polling firm Data for Progress.

The poll results, shared with The Hill, found 62 percent saying fossil fuel companies “should be held legally accountable for their contributions to climate change.” This included a majority of Democrats and independents — 84 percent and 59 percent, respectively — and 40 percent of Republicans.

Among respondents who said fossil fuel companies should be held accountable, with the option to select more than one answer, 54 percent selected “endangering the public and causing potential harms to the public in the future,” while 43 percent picked both loss of plants and wildlife and human deaths and public health impacts.

Among those who said they did not believe fossil fuel companies should be held liable, 41 percent said they do not believe there is a legal basis for it, 29 percent said they do not believe in climate change itself and 23 percent said they do not believe fossil fuels contribute to climate change. Another 22 percent said they believed it would be too difficult to prove illegal activity by oil and gas companies. Those who disagreed with the idea did not have the option to select more than one reason.

The survey found broad support for litigating oil companies for the effects of climate change across racial groups, with 71 percent of Black or African American respondents, 66 percent of Latino respondents and 59 percent of white respondents agreeing.

Although multiple individuals and organizations have filed civil lawsuits seeking to hold oil and gas companies civilly liable for climate change, others have argued in favor of charging oil and gas companies criminally on negligent homicide charges for deaths associated with climate change and its impact.

This idea was more controversial but still supported by a plurality of respondents in the poll, with 19 percent saying they strongly support the idea and 30 percent saying they somewhat support it. However, more respondents — 21 percent — strongly opposed the idea than strongly supported it.

Researchers from Data for Progress and Public Citizen surveyed 1,206 likely voters from May 3-4. The survey has a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

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