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Holding ExxonMobil accountable

Community activists in Chelsea are fighting to protect their city and others from the environmental risks posed by an ExxonMobil facility situated on the banks of the Mystic River.

Globe Opinion and Legal Lens: Climate Change

Damali Vidot is president of the Chelsea City Council, serving residents who are largely blue-collar ethnic minorities. Vidot and other community activists became concerned about the safety of the ExxonMobil facility that sits low on the bank of the Mystic River in nearby Everett. Scientific predictions suggest that even a Category 1 storm could severely damage the facility, causing toxic chemicals to flood residential neighborhoods and the local produce depots that provide food to the entire Northeast. Vidot joined a group of concerned citizens from Everett, Chelsea, and East Boston to demand that ExxonMobil disclose steps it has taken to prepare the facility for such an event, but they were rebuffed.


In response, Vidot joined the Conservation Law Foundation in its groundbreaking lawsuit against ExxonMobil for violations of federal environmental laws and for failing to prepare its Everett terminal to withstand the effects of climate change. CLF’s complaint alleges that ExxonMobil has been aware of the risks climate change poses and has not taken sufficient action — or “failed to design and implement protective measures” — to address them. Vidot testified in the proceedings about the effects the oil terminal has on her community. While ExxonMobil has vigorously fought the suit, in March a judge for the US District Court in Boston refused ExxonMobil’s motion to dismiss the action.

CLF’s litigation can lead to the release of internal documents showing how ExxonMobil’s scientists acknowledge climate change. For Vidot and the residents of Chelsea, it could be a major step in forcing ExxonMobil to protect against the risks its terminal poses and secure the safety of the Mystic River communities. But the power of the lawsuit goes beyond local concerns: It could signal to communities around the United States who fear climate-related disasters that they too can fight to hold fossil fuel companies accountable for the dangers they have caused.


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Adam Posluns and Katerina Simonova graduated from Harvard Law School in 2019.