“When will our government act like the global leaders they claim to be and let these youth be heard?”
Lawyers representing a group of young people in a landmark climate lawsuit said Monday that settlement discussions with the U.S. Department of Justice ended without resolution and that they’re now eagerly awaiting a trial date to argue that the nation’s fossil fuel-based energy system violates the youths’ constitutional rights.
First filed in 2015 at the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, Juliana v. United States says the federal government’s actions allowing continued fossil fuel exploitation directly contributed to the climate crisis, thus violating the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property, the public trust, and equal protection of the law.
The 21 plaintiffs, now aged between 13 and 25, are represented by Our Children’s Trust.
In March of this year, they filed an amended complaint seeking a declaratory judgment that the nation’s fossil fuel-based energy system is unconstitutional. In May, U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken ordered attorneys for the plaintiffs and for the U.S. Department of Justice to come together for a settlement conference with a judge. Julia Olson, chief legal counsel of Our Children’s Trust, said at the time that the settlement talks would give the Biden administration “an unprecedented opportunity to back up their commitment to protect the climate system for young people and future generations to come. And if they won’t, we will push for trial.”
On Monday, Olson said in a statement that her team came to the negotiating table “in good faith” but suggested the same can’t be said of the Biden administration officials.
“When and if the Biden administration wants to talk to the youth about their case, they will be ready,” she said. “Right now, our goal is to get to trial as fast as possible.”
“Our nation is in a climate emergency. And yet,” Olson added, “emergency falls short in describing the climate situation and its devastating impact on these young Americans. We eagerly await a ruling from Judge Aiken on our amended complaint, which, if favorable, will put us back on track to trial in 2022.”
Phil Gregory, co-lead counsel for the youth plaintiffs, argued that the Biden administration needs to take further action to show it’s taken a different tack on addressing the climate crisis from his predecessor.
He said that “these 21 young people have been stonewalled, delayed, and obstructed by their own government for six years now, all while two of the three presidents named in their case—President Obama and President Biden—have proclaimed public commitment to protecting the rights of children and a resolution to the climate crisis.”
“If President Biden is seriously committed to solving the climate crisis like he claims,” Gregory continued, “why is his Department of Justic taking the same tactics as the Trump DOJ and opposing this case going to trial and denying these human rights?”
The development in the ongoing legal case comes as Biden gathers with other world leaders gather in Glasgow, Scotland for the COP26 climate summit, and, the plaintiffs’ lawyers say, his administration is pursuing actions—like pushing for increased oil production from OPEC nations—that run counter to his assessment that the world is in a “code red” situation regarding the climate emergency.
“These young people have been waiting six years to have their evidence heard and the issues determined by a court of law,” Olson added in her statement. “When will our government act like the global leaders they claim to be and let these youth be heard?”