March 9, 2018; Color Lines
The United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied the government’s latest effort to have a youth-led climate lawsuit dismissed. The plaintiffs in the case are 21 young people who claim that the government is imperiling their life, liberty, and property by failing to take action on climate change.
The young people brought their suit against the Obama administration back in August 2015, but amended the suit in early 2017 to include President Trump as a defendant. Climate scientist Dr. James Hansen is also a plaintiff in the case, joining alongside his granddaughter who is one of the youth plaintiffs.
The youth, who ranged in age from 8 to 19 years old at the time of the original filing, are represented by Our Children’s Trust, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group that is coordinating a global campaign to “secure the legal right to a healthy atmosphere and stable climate.”
Following the March 7th ruling allowing the case to proceed, Julia Olson, lead lawyer for the youth plaintiffs and chief counsel at Our Children’s Trust, told the Washington Post, “We’re looking forward to putting the federal government on trial on climate science and its dangerous fossil fuel policies.”
Kiran Oommen, a 21-year-old plaintiff from Seattle, Washington, responded to the Court’s decision:
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The question of the last few years has not been “do we have a case” but rather “how far will the federal government go to prevent justice.” We have seen that they are willing to go to many lengths to cover up their crimes and maintain the status quo, but not even the Trump administration can go far enough to escape the inevitable tide of social progress. The Ninth Circuit’s decision affirms that we are on the side of justice.
The suit was originally filed in the US District Court for the District of Oregon. In November 2016, following oral arguments in the case, US District Judge Ann Aiken ruled that the lawsuit could move forward to trial. A series of motions by the government and industry groups that formally intervened slowed progress throughout 2017.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are a diverse group of young people from various regions of the country threatened by climate change. One plaintiff, Jayden Foytlin, 13, lives in Rayne, Louisiana, where her home has regularly flooded since the filing of the lawsuit. In September 2016 oral arguments in the case, Foytlin explained the situation:
They called it a thousand-year flood, meaning it should only happen every thousand years or so. But in my state, Louisiana, we have had that 1000-year flood and eight 500-year floods in less than two years. A few weeks ago, I literally stepped out of bed and was up to my ankles in climate change.
“The purpose of this case is to obtain an order from a federal court requiring the United States government, including the president and specific federal agencies, to develop national plan to protect our atmosphere and stable climate system,” explained Olson when the case was first filed. “This lawsuit asks whether our government has a constitutional responsibility to leave a viable climate system for future generations.”
From the actions of the Trump administration to dismantle regulations, speed fossil fuel development, and hide information about climate science from the public, it’s pretty clear that the administration does not agree that the government has a responsibility to address climate change. When this landmark case goes to trial—likely in about six months—government lawyers are going to have a tough case to present.—Karen Kahn