Youth Win! Climate Change Lawsuit Against the US Government will go to Trial!

At a time when a majority of Americans are confused and potentially losing hope in what they thought was the America that they knew, this court decision shines light into a particularly dark political landscape. 

In 2015 a group of 21 young people ages 8 - 19 filed a lawsuit against the US Government in the US District Court of Oregon. On April 8, 2016, U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin ruled in favor of the young Plaintiffs and denied the government and fossil fuel industry's motions to dismiss the case. The ruling from Judge Coffin was a major victory for the Plaintiffs, and it has been  under review by U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken, who heard oral arguments on September 13, 2016.

As of yesterday, November 10, 2016, Judge Aiken released her ruling on whether the case should move forward to trial. In another landmark decision, Judge Aiken of the US District Court of Oregon dismissed the arguments of the US Government and Fossil Fuel agencies and decided that the youth plaintiffs'  constitutional and public trust claims can proceed. 

Some salient points from Judge Aiken's ruling are: 

Federal courts too often have been cautious and overly deferential in the arena of environmental law, and the world has suffered for it.”
“Although the United States has made international commitments regarding climate change, granting the relief requested here would be fully consistent with those commitments. There is no contradiction between promising other nations the United States will reduce C02 emissions and a judicial order directing the United States to go beyond its international commitments to more aggressively reduce C02 emissions.”
“[The defendants and intervenors] are correct that plaintiffs likely could not obtain the relief they seek
through citizen suits brought under the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, or other environmental laws.

But that argument misses the point. This action is of a different order than the typical environmental case. It alleges that defendants’ actions and inactions - whether or not they violate any specific statutory duty - have so profoundly damaged our home planet that they threaten the plaintiffs’ fundamental constitutional rights to life and liberty.
Photo:   Robin Loznak

Photo: Robin Loznak

The young plaintiffs are suing the federal government for violating their constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property, and their rights to vital public trust resources, by locking in a fossil-fuel based national energy system for more than five decades with full knowledge of the extreme dangers it posed. This federal case is one of many related legal actions brought by youth in several states and countries, all supported by Our Children’s Trust, seeking science-based action by governments to stabilize the climate system.

At a time when the future of America's participation in fighting climate change is in question, this decision by the US District Court offers hope. 

For more on this campaign, check out their website here: www.ourchildren'

Article by: Rajmani Sinclair

November 11, 2016