Tag Archives: Our Children’s Trust

Landmark Youth Climate Suit Moves Ahead as Supreme Court Rejects Trump Admin. Request to Halt It

“The youth of our nation won an important decision”

By Andrea Germanos, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 11-3-2018

Supporters of the youthful plaintiffs in the case rally outside the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Oct. 29, 2018. (Photo: Peg Hunter/flickr/cc)

The nation’s top court on Friday turned down the Trump administration’s latest attempt to put the brakes on a landmark lawsuit brought by a group of young people who charge that the federal government has violated their constitutional rights by actively causing climate instability.

“The youth of our nation won an important decision,” said Julia Olson, executive director and chief legal counsel of Our Children’s Trust and co-counsel for the youth plaintiffs. She said the finding by the U.S. Supreme Court “shows even the most powerful government in the world must follow the rules and process of litigation in our democracy.” Continue reading

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‘Disgraceful and Enraging’: Supreme Court Halts Youth Climate Case After Last-Ditch Trump Effort to Kill Suit

“A newly configured Supreme Court seems poised to close the courthouse doors. But the tide of #ClimateAction cannot be stopped.”

By Jessica Corbett, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 10-20-2018

The Minnesota March for Science was held in St. Paul in April of 2017. (Photo: Lorie Shaull/Flickr/cc)

In a move author and activist Naomi Klein denounced as “disgraceful and enraging,” the U.S. Supreme Court has halted a lawsuit brought by 21 American children and young adults that aims to hold the federal government accountable for its ongoing failure to adequately curb greenhouse gas emissions to battle the global climate crisis.

The decision came in response to a last-ditch effort by the Trump administration to kill the “potentially landmark” case ahead of the trial slated to begin in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon on Oct. 29. Continue reading

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‘Turning Point’ in Climate Fight as Judge Rules Youth Can Sue U.S. Government

‘This court just gave the youth of this country the critical opportunity to protect their futures,’ said attorney Julia Olson

By Lauren McCauley, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 11-11-2016

"We're doing what so many people told us we were incapable of doing: holding our leaders accountable for their disastrous and dangerous actions," said Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, a 16-year-old plaintiff and youth director of Earth Guardians. (Image via EcoWatch)

“We’re doing what so many people told us we were incapable of doing: holding our leaders accountable for their disastrous and dangerous actions,” said Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, a 16-year-old plaintiff and youth director of Earth Guardians. (Image via EcoWatch)

In a powerful late Thursday ruling, a U.S. judge dismissed all attempts by the federal government and Big Oil to block a landmark trial brought by young people on behalf of the environment, in a case that advocates say could be a “turning point in United States constitutional history.”

“Federal courts too often have been cautious and overly deferential in the arena of environmental law, and the world has suffered for it,” wrote (pdf) U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken as she moved to reject all arguments to dismiss raised by the Obama administration and fossil fuel industry. Continue reading

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“These Kids Can’t Wait”: New Win in Youth Climate Lawsuit in Washington

Judge orders state Department of Ecology to create new rules to cap emissions by end of 2016

By Nadia Prupis, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 8-29-2016

Friday's ruling is "the first time [that] a U.S. court not only recognized the extraordinary harms young people are facing due to climate change, but ordered an agency to do something about it." (Photo: Joe Brusky/flickr/cc)

Friday’s ruling is “the first time [that] a U.S. court not only recognized the extraordinary harms young people are facing due to climate change, but ordered an agency to do something about it.” (Photo: Joe Brusky/flickr/cc)

The young activists suing the U.S. government over its role in climate change scored another victory in court on Friday, as a judge in Seattle ordered the Washington Department of Ecology (DOE) to announce an emissions reduction rule by the end of the year and make recommendations to reach those targets to the state legislature in 2017.

King County Superior Court Judge Hollis Hill also ordered the department to consult with the young plaintiffs on crafting those recommendations.

“This is an urgent situation,” Hill said in issuing the order. “These kids can’t wait.” Continue reading

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21 Teens Tell Exxon and Koch Brothers: Get Out of Our Lawsuit

By Our Children’s Trust. Published 12-8-2015 at EcoWatch

Twenty-one young people from around the country are working to keep the world’s largest fossil fuel companies from intervening in their constitutional climate change lawsuit. Last week, the youth opposed the industry’s proposal to intervene as defendants in their case.

The proposed interveners are trade associations for major corporations, including the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM)—representing ExxonMobil, BP, Shell, Koch Industries and virtually all other U.S. refiners and petrochemical manufacturers—the American Petroleum Institute (API)—representing 625 oil and natural gas companies—and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). 

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“These organizations were not named as defendants in our complaint,” Phil Gregory, of Cotchett, Pitre and McCarthy said. Gregory serves as one of the attorneys for the youth plaintiffs. “The fossil fuel industry understands how significant our case is. They want to join the federal government in attempting to defeat the constitutional claims asserted by these youth plaintiffs. The fossil fuel industry and the federal government lining up against 21 young citizens. That shows you what is at stake here.”

The lawsuit asserts the federal government has violated the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty and property. It also claims the government failed to protect essential public trust resources by facilitating the exploitation of fossil fuels. The youth have asked the courts to order the federal government to prepare and implement a science-based national climate recovery plan. 

The fossil fuel powerhouses call the youth’s case “extraordinary” and “a direct threat to [their] businesses.” They claim “significant reduction in [greenhouse gas] emissions would cause a significant negative effect on [their] members by constraining the sale of the product they have specialized in developing and selling.” 

Victoria Barrett, 16-year-old plaintiff and fellow with Alliance for Climate Education, is participating in the climate talks in Paris advocating for science-based climate recovery plans. Barrett became a plaintiff because she was tired of the U.S. government sacrificing her future by allowing fossil fuel companies unbridled economic growth.

“Fossil fuel companies continue to show complete disregard for my future and the future of my generation,” Barrett said. “They have put my constitutional right to a certain quality of living at risk and continue to completely bulldoze over any real solutions for a sustainable world. These companies are focused on short-term goals, without thinking of their lasting effects on humanity. Fossil fuels are the energy of the past and I see no reason why these companies would not want to pride themselves in looking to the future.”

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In seeking to join the case, AFPM, API and NAM argue the court should focus on short-term economic benefits over a stable climate and healthy environment for future generations. The industry claims that “reducing greenhouse gas emissions in order to bring atmospheric carbon dioxide levels down to 350 parts per million would abate some of the future risks of climate change, those reductions would nevertheless not be ‘appropriate’ if the future potential benefits would be outweighed by, for instance, enormous losses in productivity and economic development.”

In a declaration on behalf API’s motion to intervene, Howard Feldman claims, “A sudden and significant reduction in allowable GHG emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels could have a significant negative effect on the profitability of many of API’s members.” However, Jack Gerard, API’s president and CEO, presented a different picture in a press release on API’s website: “The facts are clear … by embracing our nation’s energy renaissance, we can lower costs, clean the air and create more jobs here at home while providing an example to the world.”

AFPM echoed API’s concern in a declaration of David Friedman of AFPM, stating, “If Plaintiffs succeed in eliminating or massively reducing U.S. conventional fuel consumption and imposing other severe restrictions on GHG emission limits, the impact on AFPM’s members will be significant and varied.” 

“We oppose the world’s largest fossil fuel polluters, including Exxon and Koch Industries, arguing that young people don’t have a constitutional right to life if it means reducing fossil fuel use,” said Julia Olson, executive director for Our Children’s Trust, also counsel in the litigation.

“Given what our president just said at the UN climate talks in Paris, a renewed alignment between our government and the fossil fuel industry could not be less welcome. This case asks the court to order what the industry fears most: a national plan using the best science we’ve got to try to leave clean air and a healthy climate to our kids.”

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Fighting for Next Generation, Kids File Climate Suit Against US Government

Climate scientist James Hansen backs 21 young plaintiffs seeking to ‘retain a fighting chance to preserve a habitable climate system’

Written by Deirdre Fulton, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 8-13-15.

Our Children's Trust after filing their lawsuit. Eugene, Oregon, 8-12-2015. Photo: Our Children's Future via Facebook

Our Children’s Trust after filing their lawsuit in Eugene, Oregon, 8-12-2015. Photo: Our Children’s Trust via Facebook

Claiming that the continued development and burning of fossil fuels violates their constitutional rights, 21 young plaintiffs—ranging in age from 8 to 19—filed a landmark climate change lawsuit against the federal government on Wednesday.

“The federal government has known for decades that CO2 pollution from burning fossil fuels was causing global warming and dangerous climate change,” said one of the teenage plaintiffs and youth director of Earth Guardians, 15-year-old Xiuhtezcatl Tonatiuh Martinez of Colorado. “It also knew that continuing to burn fossil fuels would destabilize our climate system, significantly harming my generation and generations to come.”

Despite that knowledge, the government “continued to authorize and promote fossil fuel extraction, production, consumption, and all their associated emissions—to the grave detriment of future generations,” added attorney Philip Gregory of the California firm Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, a counsel to the plaintiffs.

Lawyers working on the case say a win for the kids would be no less important, from a strictly legal basis, than Brown v. Board of Education, which established the right to equal educational opportunity, or Obergefell v. Hodges, which much more recently established the freedom to marry.

As MSNBC reports, the lawsuit “debuts a new legal framework to fight climate change, one that portrays federal support for the development and use of fossil fuels as a violation of the Fifth and Ninth Amendments, as well as the public trust doctrine.”

The public trust doctrine ensures “the rights of present and future generations to those essential natural resources that are of public concern to the citizens of our nation,” reads the complaint. “These vital natural resources include at least the air (atmosphere), water, seas, the shores of the sea, and wildlife. The overarching public trust resource is our country’s life-sustaining climate system, which encompasses our atmosphere, waters, oceans, and biosphere. Defendants must take affirmative steps to protect those trust resources.”

Accompanying the youth’s legal complaint (pdf) was an “expert declaration” (pdf) from former NASA scientist James Hansen, who first sounded the alarm on climate change in 1988. Hansen’s granddaughter, 17-year-old Sophie Kivlehan of Pennsylvania, is among the plaintiffs.

“In my opinion, this lawsuit is made necessary by the at-best schizophrenic, if not suicidal, nature of U.S. climate and energy policy,” Hansen wrote.

“It is now clear, as the relevant scientific community has established for some time, that continued high CO2 emissions from fossil fuel burning will further disrupt Earth’s climate system, and that, in turn, will impose profound and mounting risks of ecological, economic and social collapse,” he continued. “In my view, our government’s actions and inactions that cause or contribute to those emissions violate the fundamental rights of Sophie, other Youth, and future generations. Those violated rights include the right to life, the right to liberty, the right to property, the right to equal protection under the law, the right to government protection of public trust resources, and the right to retain a fighting chance to preserve a habitable climate system.”

The complaint includes each plaintiff’s individual story and the ways in which they are harmed by climate change now and will be in the future if the court does not, as they lawsuit asks, order the federal government to decrease atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide to a safe level.

For example, 15-year-old Nathaniel Baring, of Alaska, is described as an “avid Nordic skier” who has been “harmed by the reduced snowfall in recent years.”

Journey Zephier, a 15 year old who lives with his family in Hawaii, has been adversely impacted by rising sea levels, beach erosion, and ocean acidification.

Eleven-year-old Sahara Valentine, an Oregon resident who has asthma, says her condition has been exacerbated by severe climate change.

And Victoria Barrett, a 16 year old from New York, “has become emotionally distressed by the increase in superstorms in the Northeast,” the complaint reads.

The case is part of a global legal campaign led by Our Children’s Trust, a nonprofit organization that is coordinating a federal, state, local, and global effort to secure the legal right to a healthy atmosphere and stable climate.

And there are signs the strategy could be successful.

In the Netherlands in June, an organization partnered with Our Children’s Trust won a similar case, with a Dutch court ruling that the government has a legal duty to reduce carbon emissions by 25 percent by 2020.

“The state must do more to avert the imminent danger caused by climate change, also in view of its duty of care to protect and improve the living environment,” read a statement from the Hague District Court at the time.

Also in June, a judge in Washington state handed a group of eight young petitioners—also backed by both Our Children’s Trust and Hansen—a landmark win, ordering the Department of Ecology (ECY) to consider statewide reductions in carbon dioxide emissions based on best available science.

“The court’s decision brings a feeling of triumph,” said 14-year-old petitioner Aji Piper in June. “But I know there is still a lot of work to be done. We may have won a battle, but we’re still fighting a bigger war.”

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