2021 Pacific Northwest Heat Dome Lawsuit

Details of the ‘Heat Dome’ Event in 2021

In the summer of 2021, the Pacific Northwest experienced an unprecedented and deadly heat wave known as the ‘Heat Dome’ event. This extreme weather phenomenon brought record-breaking temperatures that surpassed anything the region had ever seen before. 

Communities across Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia were hit hard, and the consequences were severe.

The Heat Dome event lasted for several days, with temperatures soaring well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. In some areas, temperatures reached a scorching 118 degrees Fahrenheit, breaking all previous heat records.

The relentless heat wave created unbearable conditions, leading to widespread heat exhaustion, heat strokes, and unfortunately, sixty-nine people died. People struggled to find relief as air conditioning systems struggled to keep up, and those without access to such amenities faced even greater risks.

Scientific evidence clearly links such extreme weather events to human-caused climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has concluded in numerous reports that the burning of fossil fuels is the primary driver of global warming, leading to more frequent and intense heatwaves.

The deadly Heat Dome event of 2021 served as a stark reminder of the catastrophic harm caused by climate change and the urgent need for action.

As a result of the record heat wave’s devastating impact, lawsuits have emerged seeking to hold responsible parties accountable for their contribution to climate change.

The heat caused 69 people to die, property damage, and was a draw on taxpayer resources, Multnomah County says. [1] 

heat dome lawsuit

Overview of the 2021 Pacific Northwest Heat Dome Lawsuit

In the aftermath of this extreme weather event, Multnomah County, located in Oregon, took a groundbreaking step by filing a lawsuit against major fossil fuel companies.

The lawsuit seeks to hold these companies accountable for their contributions to climate change and the resulting harms.

By intentionally producing and promoting fossil fuel products, these companies have played a significant role in exacerbating climate change and its devastating consequences.

Multnomah County’s lawsuit highlights the interconnectedness between the burning of fossil fuels and extreme weather events like the heat dome.

Scientific evidence from esteemed organizations such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has repeatedly emphasized the link between human-caused climate change and the intensification of heat waves.

The lawsuit not only aims to recover damages for the immediate harm caused by the heat dome but also seeks compensation for the future damages resulting from the ongoing impacts of climate change. By pursuing this legal action, Multnomah County seeks to protect its residents from the potential adverse effects of climate change and secure a sustainable and safer future for its communities.

The implications of the 2021 Pacific Northwest heat dome lawsuit reach beyond Multnomah County. This legal action sets a precedent for other communities and regions affected by climate change to hold polluters accountable for their actions.

It underscores the urgency for a thoughtful energy transition and international policy solutions that address the root causes of climate change.

The lawsuit seeks not only financial compensation but also aims to bring about systemic change. By making fossil fuel companies and industry groups answer for their actions, the lawsuit sends a clear message that the era of unchecked environmental degradation and public health risks must come to an end.

Multnomah County, Ore. (June 22, 2023) — Today Multnomah County filed suit against several of the largest fossil fuel and coal-producing corporations, seeking to hold them accountable for the damages arising from the 2021 Pacific Northwest Heat Dome, one of the most deadly and destructive human-made weather disasters in American history. [2] 

Overview of the 2021 Pacific Northwest Heat Dome Lawsuit

Fossil Fuel Companies Involved

These companies have long been profiting from the production and sale of fossil fuel products, generating record profits while contributing to the carbon emissions that are driving climate change.

The county’s legal action recognizes that these companies are not solely responsible for the heat dome event itself, as extreme weather events are ultimately a natural occurrence.

However, the lawsuit argues that their reckless conduct and disregard for the impacts of their activities have significantly worsened the effects of the heat dome and exacerbated the risks faced by communities.

The evidence presented by Multnomah County relies heavily on climate science, which demonstrates the direct link between human-caused climate change and the intensification of extreme weather events.

By suing these fossil fuel companies, the county aims to hold them accountable for their role in contributing to the conditions that led to the devastating heat dome and the subsequent harm it caused.

Furthermore, Multnomah County’s legal action seeks to establish an abatement fund for long-term solutions and public health care services. The county recognizes that it is not enough to simply seek financial compensation for the damages caused – it is necessary to implement meaningful measures to mitigate the impacts of climate change and support affected communities.

This includes investing in renewable and sustainable energy sources as well as thoughtful energy transition plans.

By including industry groups like the American Petroleum Institute and the Western States Petroleum Association in the lawsuit, Multnomah County is also highlighting its role in obstructing progress on climate policy.

These groups have come under scrutiny for allegedly perpetuating climate change denial and prioritizing profit over public safety.

By bringing them to court, Multnomah County is emphasizing the urgent need for industry groups to take responsibility for their actions and support effective climate policies that benefit society as a whole.

Fossil Fuel Companies Involved

Future Damages Sought From Fossil Fuel Companies

Multnomah County’s aim in seeking future damages from fossil fuel companies is to hold them accountable for their actions, their role in perpetuating the use of fossil fuels, and their obstruction of climate policy progress.

By demanding compensation for the damages caused by the heat dome, the county is sending a strong message to these companies about the consequences of their recklessness and disregard for public safety.

But the county’s efforts to seek future damages go beyond mere financial reimbursement. They recognize the need for long-term solutions to adapt and mitigate the impacts of climate change.

That is why Multnomah County is advocating for the establishment of an abatement fund. This fund will serve to support comprehensive efforts in addressing climate change, investing in public health care services, and implementing thoughtful energy transition strategies.

By including industry groups like the American Petroleum Institute and the Western States Petroleum Association in their legal action, Multnomah County is going beyond individual fossil fuel companies. They are challenging the systemic barriers to effective climate policies that these industry groups represent.

These organizations, known for their promotion of climate change denial and hindrance of climate action measures, must be held accountable for their contribution to the crisis.

Seeking future damages from fossil fuel companies is not just about seeking financial restitution, but about demanding responsibility, change, and a shift towards sustainable practices.

Multnomah County understands the irrefutable climate science behind human-induced climate change and the catastrophic harm it inflicts on communities worldwide.

Through this lawsuit, they are striving to make polluters accountable and ensure that the tremendous benefits they have reaped from their operations are not at the expense of the environment and public health.

This legal action sends a clear message – the days of prioritizing record profits over the welfare of communities and the planet are over.

Multnomah County, along with other communities and organizations fighting for climate justice, is pushing for international policy solutions and stricter regulations to curb carbon emissions and protect vulnerable populations from the impacts of extreme weather events fueled by human-caused climate change.

In the spirit of justice and sustainability, Multnomah County’s efforts to seek future damages from fossil fuel companies are not only a call for accountability but also an opportunity to usher in positive change toward a more resilient and sustainable future.

Multnomah County is suing 17 companies for the fatal heatwave, seeking billions to upgrade public services and infrastructure [3] 


[1] Clifford, C. (2023, June 23). Oregon county sues oil, gas companies including Exxon, Shell, Chevron for deadly 2021 Pacific Northwest heat dome. CNBC. https://www.cnbc.com/2023/06/23/multnomah-county-in-oregon-sues-oil-gas-companies-for-2021-heat-dome.html

[2] Multnomah County sues oil companies over 2021 Heat Dome disaster. (2023, June 22). Multnomah County. https://www.multco.us/multnomah-county/news/multnomah-county-sues-oil-companies-over-2021-heat-dome-disaster

[3] Oregon county sues big oil over 2021 heatwave that killed dozens of people. (2023, June 22). The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2023/jun/22/oregon-big-oil-lawsuit-heatwave-heat-dome-pacific-northwest

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