Public Trust Suit Filed by Youth-Driven Climate Campaign Moves Ahead

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November 10, 2016; Minneapolis Star Tribune

The Star Tribune reports that U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken in Eugene, Oregon, has ruled that a lawsuit filed by 21 young climate activists and scientist James Hanson can move forward. The suit alleges that the federal government has neglected to curb greenhouse gas emissions despite the fact that it knew that the effect would be climate change. Both the federal government and trade groups of energy companies had petitioned to dismiss the lawsuit.

The young plaintiffs,, working in concert with Our Children’s Trust, a six-year-old, Eugene-based environmental group, argue that their constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property have been violated by the government’s abdication of its obligation to hold in trust certain natural resources for the benefit of generations to come. Young people in Seattle have filed another, similar lawsuit based on the public trust doctrine. In fact, Our Children’s Trust says on its website that it has legal proceedings in all 50 states. You can see the status of these here. The group is dedicated to “elevating the voice of youth to secure the legal right to a healthy atmosphere and stable climate for the benefit of all present and future generations.”

In allowing the case to advance, Judge Aiken wrote that “this action is of a different order than the typical environmental case…a deep resistance to change runs through defendants’ and intervenors’ arguments for dismissal.”

The plaintiffs want the court to order the government to create a plan to significantly limit the greenhouse gas emissions generated in the burning of fossil fuels.—Ruth McCambridge