Kilmartin announced the litigation against 21 companies alongside fellow Democratic politicians Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo and US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse at a press conference in front of the Narragansett Sea Wall.
They made the case that Rhode Island is particularly impacted by the effects of global warming because of its 400-mile shoreline and dependence on its fishing industry and marine economy.
"Rhode Island is especially vulnerable to the effects of climate changes that is now on our doorstep with sea level rise and an increase in severe weather patterns, as seen by the extensive damage caused by storms in the past several years, including Super Storm Sandy and the floods of 2010," Kilmartin said.
He went on to argue that Rhode Island, the smallest state in the US, taking on the "biggest corporate polluters in the world" proved that big oil wasn't too big to oppose.
The state's claim is one of public nuisance and seeks billions from the oil giants, among them Exxon Mobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Marathon Oil, and Hess, to aid its efforts in combating global warming's disastrous implications to the state's "infrastructure, economy, public health, and our eco-systems."
Sputnik News spoke Tuesday with Fred Magdoff, professor emeritus of plant and soil science at the University of Vermont and co-author of "What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know About Capitalism" and "Creating an Ecological Society: Toward a Revolutionary Transformation," about the lawsuit.
"I guess folks are trying," Magdoff said of the Rhode Island suit, noting that there have been several similar attempts, but "I can't believe they're going to be successful." In June, a federal judge rejected similar lawsuits from the California cities of San Francisco and Oakland. However, such a strategy had yet to be employed by a state government until Rhode Island threw its hat in the ring.
A suit like this has more value for "educational purposes," Magdoff said, though he characterized the move as a positive step. "It keeps the conversation going… it's just something that adds to the weight of the opposition to companies that don't give a damn."
But also necessary in the conversation are direct, physical protests like the ones in North Dakota over the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), Magdoff suggested.
In that case, protesters were called upon by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to occupy treaty land that was slated to be used by Energy Transfer Partners to build DAPL. In doing so, some, to the tribe's dismay, engaged in economic sabotage of construction equipment as lawyers for the tribe fought the construction tooth and nail in court. Both methods, that of protest and that of litigation, ultimately proved unsuccessful. Nonetheless, Magdoff stressed the importance of a multi-pronged battle.
"The more disruption, the better; the more opposition, the better; the more types of opposition, the better," he said.