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PA Court Disregards Constitutional Obligation to Future Generations

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PA Court Disregards Constitutional Obligation to Future Generations

The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania dismissed the constitutional climate change lawsuit Tuesday brought by seven young plaintiffs. The court found that the plaintiffs had standing to bring their case because climate change was a substantial, direct and immediate threat to them. However, the court declined to follow Pennsylvania Supreme Court precedent that determined that Pennsylvania's constitutional Environmental Rights Amendment imposes an affirmative duty on the Commonwealth to "conserve and maintain" Pennsylvania's public natural resources for both present and future generations.

Attorney Kenneth Kristl with two of the seven youth plaintiffs, Kaia Elinich (left) and Ashley Funk (right). Our Children's Trust

The plaintiffs brought the lawsuit against Gov. Tom Wolf and six state agencies, including the Department of Environmental Protection and the Pennsylvania Environmental Quality Board. This case is one of several similar state, federal and global cases, all supported by the nonprofit Our Children's Trust and all seeking the legal right to a healthy atmosphere and stable climate.

In this case, the youth are seeking to protect their constitutional rights to clean air, pure water and other essential natural resources that their lives depend upon, but that are currently threatened by climate change. Their complaint states that government defendants are failing to fulfill their constitutional obligations by failing to adequately regulate CO2 emissions.

The suit was filed by the Environmental & Natural Resources Law Clinic, at Widener University Delaware Law School, with Associate Professor of Law and Clinic Director Kenneth Kristl as lead counsel.

"We are disappointed with the court's decision," Kristl said. "We believe the Commonwealth Court failed to consider and apply correctly the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's Robinson Township decision and the new contours for Article I, Section 27 that it carved out. We are optimistic that the Supreme Court's consideration of this matter on appeal will lead to a different result."

Ashley Funk, one of the seven plaintiffs, was recently featured on Heat of The Moment, WBEZ Chicago's long-term project about climate change. Listen to her share her story about growing up in coal country here.

"After arguing our position on June 6th, my fellow plaintiffs and I really believed that the court would rule in favor of our lawsuit—and our generation—by allowing our case to proceed," Funk said.

"With recent victories in Juliana, et al. v. United States of America, et al. and a similar lawsuit in the state of Washington, we had hope that Pennsylvania would follow suit. I am disappointed in the court's decision to uphold the preliminary objections. But I know that our case is grounded in our rights to a livable climate and so we will continue pushing this case until Pennsylvania takes adequate and measurable action to address climate change."

A plume of smoke from wildfires burning in the Angeles National Forest is seen from downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

California is bracing for rare January wildfires this week amid damaging Santa Ana winds coupled with unusually hot and dry winter weather.

High winds, gusting up to 80- to 90 miles per hour in some parts of the state, are expected to last through Wednesday evening. Nearly the entire state has been in a drought for months, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which, alongside summerlike temperatures, has left vegetation dry and flammable.

Utilities Southern California Edison and PG&E, which serves the central and northern portions of the state, warned it may preemptively shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers to reduce the risk of electrical fires sparked by trees and branches falling on live power lines. The rare January fire conditions come on the heels of the worst wildfire season ever recorded in California, as climate change exacerbates the factors causing fires to be more frequent and severe.

California is also experiencing the most severe surge of COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with hospitals and ICUs over capacity and a stay-at-home order in place. Wildfire smoke can increase the risk of adverse health effects due to COVID, and evacuations forcing people to crowd into shelters could further spread the virus.

As reported by AccuWeather:

In the atmosphere, air flows from high to low pressure. The setup into Wednesday is like having two giant atmospheric fans working as a team with one pulling and the other pushing the air in the same direction.
Normally, mountains to the north and east of Los Angeles would protect the downtown which sits in a basin. However, with the assistance of the offshore storm, there will be areas of gusty winds even in the L.A. Basin. The winds may get strong enough in parts of the basin to break tree limbs and lead to sporadic power outages and sparks that could ignite fires.
"Typically, Santa Ana winds stay out of downtown Los Angeles and the L.A. Basin, but this time, conditions may set up just right to bring 30- to 40-mph wind gusts even in those typically calm condition areas," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll.

For a deeper dive:

AP, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, Weather Channel, AccuWeather, New York Times, Slideshow: New York Times; Climate Signals Background: Wildfires, 2020 Western wildfire season

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, sign up for daily Hot News, and visit their news site, Nexus Media News.

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