A landmark climate change lawsuit brought by a group of children appears poised to move forward after a Monday hearing at a federal appeals court, despite the Trump administration's efforts to dismiss the case.
Juliana v. United States was filed in 2015 on behalf of 21 young plaintiffs who argue that their constitutional and public trust rights are being violated by the government's creation of climate danger.
At the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, the three-judge panel heard oral arguments over whether President Donald Trump and his administration can evade a trial set for February.
In June, the government filed a petition for writ of mandamus with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, seeking an extraordinarily rare review of a Nov. 10, 2016 decision by U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken to deny its motion to dismiss the case. The legal maneuver basically allows an appeals court to correct an abuse from a lower court.
U.S. Attorney Eric Grant told the judges that mandamus is justified by the kids' uncommon claims, as Courthouse News reported.
“According to plaintiffs' complaint, virtually every single inhabitant of the United States has standing to sue virtually the entire executive branch to enforce an unenumerated constitutional right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life," Grant said. “And to enforce that right by means of a judicial order, the defendants prepare and implement an enforceable national remedial plan to phase out fossil fuel emissions and draw down excess atmospheric CO2."
However, as Climate Liability News reporter Dana Drugmand pointed out, two out of the three judges appeared "sympathetic" to the plaintiffs' position that case should proceed.
Throwing the case out at this point "would open a judicial can of worms," Drugmand noted.
My latest piece, reporting on the landmark #youthvgov climate case oral arguments at Ninth Circuit court. At least… https://t.co/4x6mKk4B15— Dana Drugmand (@Dana Drugmand)1513052842.0
As Judge Marsha Berzon questioned at Monday's hearing, "If we grant the motion here, why don't we grant it to the next person who comes in and says the same thing?"
“We'd be absolutely flooded with appeals from people who think that their case should have been dismissed by the district court," Chief Judge Sidney Thomas added. “If we set the precedent on this kind of case, there's no logical boundary to it."
Julia Olson, executive director of Our Children's Trust and co-counsel, argued on behalf of the youth plaintiffs.
“Children are disproportionately experiencing the impacts of climate change, and will going forward," Olson said.
Olson asked the court to allow the case to move forward “so these young people can present their historic and scientific evidence and make their case."
Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University, has been been following the case and explained to InsideClimate News that the judges' remarks suggested they would send the case back to the district court, thus allowing it to proceed.
"They said it's too early to be here," Gerrard said.
There has been a significant development in the constitutional climate change lawsuit so far successfully prosecuted by 21 youth plaintiffs: The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has decided to hear oral argument over whether the Trump administration can evade trial currently set for Feb. 5, 2018. Oral arguments will be heard before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on Dec. 11 and can be watched on a live stream beginning at 10 a.m. PST.
The subject of oral arguments will be the Trump administration's extraordinary mandamus petition filed in June, which seeks the Ninth Circuit's review of U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken's 2016 denial of motions to dismiss in Juliana v. United States. In their petition, Trump, et al., claim irreparable harm for having to participate in the ordinary pre-trial discovery process and go to trial. The next step in the case would ordinarily be for the Trump administration to face the youth and their scientific evidence at trial, and then later appeal an adverse ruling after a final judgement in the case.
"We look forward to the opportunity to argue this case before the Ninth Circuit so that we can move quickly to trial," Julia Olson, co-counsel for plaintiffs and executive director of Our Children's Trust, said. "The Trump administration should not be able to dodge judicial review of such egregious constitutional infringements of these young people's liberties."
"They are knowingly destroying our climate system and the healthy futures for our young plaintiffs. This administration can respond to the limited discovery we seek, and put on its junk climate science at trial in a court of law. What it can't do is shut the courthouse doors to real constitutional injuries brought by these young people. We believe the Ninth Circuit will be the bulwark against their dodge and evade tactics," Olson added.
"Every week, or even every day, that our trial is delayed is time I spend further worrying about the stability of our climate system and the security of my future," Kelsey Juliana, 21-year-old named plaintiff from Eugene, Oregon, said. "I'm excited for the Ninth Circuit judges to hear from my lawyers, and to have our case in front of them. Another step forward, onwards to climate and constitutional Justice!"
In July, a three judge panel of the Ninth Circuit, consisting of judges Alfred Goodwin, Alex Kozinski and Marsha Berzon, placed a temporary stay on the district court proceedings and ordered briefings on the mandamus petition.
In September, legal scholars, religious, women's, libertarian, and environmental groups, and legal nonprofits filed eight separate amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefs with the Ninth Circuit, displaying resounding legal support for denying the mandamus petition, and allowing the case to proceed to trial.
Judge Aiken and Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin, of the District Court in Oregon, filed a letter with the Ninth Circuit in August, referring to the issues presented by the youth's case as "vitally important" and stating that they "do not believe that the government will be irreversibly damaged by proceeding to trial."
Through Judge Aiken's order last year, the young plaintiffs secured the following critical legal rulings:
1. There is a fundamental constitutional liberty right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life.
2. The federal government has fiduciary public trust responsibilities to preserve natural resources upon which life depends.
3. The youths' requested remedy (ordering the development and implementation of a national climate recovery plan based on a scientific prescription) is an appropriate remedy if the court finds a violation of the youths' constitutional rights.
Among the facts to be determined at trial are whether the federal government's systemic actions over the past decades enabling climate change have violated the young plaintiffs' constitutional rights.
"What is urgently needed right now is a clear, scientific and constitutional discussion of the irreparable harm that climate change is doing to this nation's youth and the ways we can hold our leaders accountable to begin serious climate recovery efforts," Jacob Lebel, 20 year-old-plaintiff from Roseburg, Oregon, said.
"I am glad that we will have the opportunity to hold this discussion before the Ninth Circuit and I look forward to moving towards a full trial," said Lebel.
Juliana v. United States was brought by 21 young plaintiffs, and Earth Guardians, who argue that their constitutional and public trust rights are being violated by the government's creation of climate danger. The case is one of many related legal actions brought by youth in several states and countries, all supported by Our Children's Trust, seeking science-based action by governments to stabilize the climate system.
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
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The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
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And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
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Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
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Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
Attorneys representing 21 youth plaintiffs in the landmark climate case Juliana v. United States filed an answer to the Trump administration's mandamus petition Monday with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
In their answer, attorneys make clear that the U.S. government already admitted that its actions imperil youth plaintiffs with "dangerous, and unacceptable economic, social, and environmental risks," and that "the use of fossil fuels is a major source of [greenhouse gas] emissions, placing our nation on an increasingly costly, insecure and environmentally dangerous path."
Attorneys for the youth plaintiffs also point to their July 20 deposition of Dr. Michael Kuperberg, head of the federal climate research program, who testified that he is "fearful," that "increasing levels of CO2 pose risks to humans and the natural environment," and that he does not "think current federal actions are adequate to safeguard the future."
The Trump administration originally filed the mandamus petition on June 9, arguing the Ninth Circuit's intervention was necessary due to what it characterized as burdensome discovery issues. On July 28 a panel of judges from the Ninth Circuit ordered youth plaintiffs' attorneys to answer the petition. Now, the Trump administration will have 14 days to reply to the youth plaintiffs' answer before the Ninth Circuit panel makes its ruling. Before the Trump administration filed the mandamus petition, the district court had issued an order for trial to begin on Feb. 5, 2018 in Eugene, Oregon, with Judge Ann Aiken presiding.
"We are headed to catastrophic sea level rise a lot faster than we have anticipated. If we act now, we may not be able to save Naples and Miami and other low-lying regions. But if we do not act now, we have no chance to protect plaintiff Levi's barrier island, and we will also be heading towards losing Orlando and many other places presently above any projected sea level rise."
A declaration submitted by Levi Draheim, 10-year-old Florida resident and youth plaintiff in the case reads:
"I'm scared about how climate change impacts and ocean acidification will continue to harm the beaches and streams in Florida and the wildlife that inhabit them. I can already notice the beaches around me getting smaller because of sea level rise. The reason why I care so much is I basically grew up on the beach. It is like another mother, sort of, to me."
Julia Olson, co-lead counsel for plaintiffs and executive director of Our Children's Trust, avowed:
"What's clear is the burden of climate change impacts faced by our young plaintiffs far outweigh the federal government's exaggerated burden in participating in pretrial discovery. Even so, we have no interest in drawn out discovery and will work with attorneys from the DOJ to move this case expeditiously to trial in February."
Phil Gregory, co-lead counsel for plaintiffs and partner with Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, LLP, in Burlingame, California, said:
"The Fifth Amendment provides Americans the fundamental rights to personal security, property, life, and family autonomy and security. The federal court has decided that our youth plaintiffs have properly brought a complaint that the U.S. government's actions in causing climate change infringe upon those rights. Right now, the federal government is trying every trick to deny these youth access to a trial that will protect their rights. We are confident the courts will properly protect the youth of America from the growing climate crisis."
The Ninth Circuit invited the District Court of Oregon to answer the petition as well. In response, the District Court filed via a letter on August 25, referring to the issues presented by the youth's case as "vitally important." The letter, signed by federal Judge Ann Aiken and Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin, affirmed:
"In short, we do not believe that the government will be irreversibly damaged by proceeding to trial. In our view, any error that we may have committed (or may commit in the future) can be corrected through the normal route of a direct appeal following final judgment. Indeed, we believe that permitting this case to proceed to trial will produce better results on appeal by distilling the legal and factual questions that can only emerge from a fully developed record."
The letter filed by the judges also recognized that the fossil fuel industry's broad denial of all allegations in the complaint was in part responsible for the original scope of the youth plaintiffs' discovery requests. The letter went on to conclude that the withdrawal of three trade association defendants from the case in June should allow the plaintiffs to substantially narrow their discovery requests.
Juliana v. United States was brought by 21 young plaintiffs, and Earth Guardians, who argue that their constitutional and public trust rights are being violated by the government's creation of climate danger. The case is one of many related legal actions brought by youth in several states and countries, all supported by Our Children's Trust, seeking science-based action by governments to stabilize the climate system.
Anadarko Petroleum Corporation is temporarily closing all its vertical wells across northeast Colorado following a massive house explosion and fire in the town of Firestone last week that killed two people.
The Woodlands, Texas-based oil and gas giant said in press release it was shutting more than 3,000 producing vertical wells, which produce about 13,000 barrels of oil per day, "in an abundance of caution."
Mark Martinez and his brother-in-law Joseph William Irwin III, both 42, were killed in the April 17 explosion. Mark's wife, Erin Martinez, was injured as well her 11-year-old son. A GoFundMe page is currently raising funds for the family.
In its statement, Anadarko acknowledged that the blast occurred approximately 200 feet from the family's recently built two-story home on Twilight Ave., where the company operates an older vertical well drilled by a previous operator.
The tragedy has sparked concerns from local anti-fracking activists over the risks of oil and gas production in Colorado and are calling for a statewide emergency moratorium as officials and regulators investigate the cause of the explosion.
The Frederick-Firestone Fire Protection District and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) are involved with the investigation.
"While the well in the vicinity is one aspect of the investigation, this is a complex investigation and the origin and cause of the fire have not been determined," Frederick-Firestone Fire Protection District Chief Theodore Poszywak said.
The Colorado Independent reported on the possible link between the Anadarko-operated gas well and the Firestone house explosion:
A source has told The Independent that personnel and trucks bearing Anadarko's logo responded soon after the explosion, and that company personnel at and near the scene over the following days came in unmarked vehicles and clothes. They were apparently paying special attention to a feeder line that may have been severed near the home.
News stories after the explosion reported that Irwin, a master plumber, was helping Mark Martinez install a hot water heater, apparently at or near the time of the explosion. The insinuation was that their work may have led to their deaths.
But that narrative sounded immediately curious to those who knew Irwin and his work, and became less plausible when Colorado's Public Utilities Commission passed the investigation on to the COGCC, which regulates the oil and gas industry.
Anadarko spokesman John Christiansen would not respond to the Independent's report or questions about the company's possible involvement.
Anadarko is one of the world's largest private oil and natural gas exploration and production companies and the largest oil and gas producer in Colorado. The state is the seventh-largest oil and gas producing state in the country.
"Our teams will remain actively engaged with residents in the Firestone community," said Brad Holly, Anadarko senior vice president of U.S. Onshore Exploration and Production.
"Colorado residents must feel safe in their own homes, and I want to be clear that we are committed to understanding all that we can about this tragedy as we work with each investigating agency until causes can be determined."
In response to the incident, Boulder, Colorado-based climate change activist Xiuhtezcatl Martinez is calling for immediate halt on drilling activity.
"Our thoughts and best wishes go to Martinez and Irwin families, no one should have to lose a family member before their time," Martinez, who is the youth director of Earth Guardians, told EcoWatch. "We must fight to make sure that Anadarko is held accountable, if its shown their reckless behavior played a part in their deaths, so we can ensure this is the last time a tragedy like this occurs."
"Unfortunately this is likely the result of a state that has completely failed to protect it's citizens from the impacts of fracking," Martinez added. "Based on the explosive danger coming from this industry and the proximity to homes, schools and hospitals we are calling for a statewide emergency moratorium, until it can be demonstrated that fracking can be done safely."
In March, the Colorado Court of Appeals sided with Martinez and other youth plaintiffs that the Oil and Gas Conservation Act required it to strike a balance between the regulation of oil and gas operations and protecting public health, the environment and wildlife resources.
Martinez said that the appellate court's decision "clearly states that health and safety must be prioritized with regards to oil and gas industry in the state."
"Based on that decision and [the Firestone house explosion] it's clear that all drilling activity should be halted immediately and the danger of fracking should be investigated in full," Martinez said.
A source pointed out to EcoWatch that "Fractivist" Shane Davis, a biologist who started the fracking resistance in Colorado several years ago, happened to live in Firestone and "literally moved out of the town for this very reason."
Incidentally, Davis detailed in a January blog post about the dangers of living nearby drilling operations.
One landowner's decision to lease their minerals to the fracking industry "can place hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent people at risk from the dangers of the fracking industry's toxic air, groundwater contamination, fugitive emissions, failed equipment, human error, and even a blowout which is the most dangerous to communities that are close by," Davis wrote on Fractivist.org.
Anadarko said the wells will remain shut in until the company's field personnel can conduct additional inspections and testing of the associated equipment, such as facilities and underground lines associated with each wellhead. The wells will not be restarted until each has undergone and passed these additional inspections. Anadarko currently anticipates the process will take two to four weeks.
In a 2-1 decision Thursday, the Colorado Court of Appeals reversed the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission's order denying a youth-brought rulemaking petition against fracking and a lower court's order upholding the denial. The court remanded the case to the district court and the commission, finding that the commission erred in its interpretation of Colorado law:
"We therefore conclude that the commission erred in interpreting [the Oil and Gas Conservation Act] as requiring a balance between development and public health, safety and welfare."
"The clear language of the act ... mandates that the development of oil and gas in Colorado be regulated subject to the protection of public health, safety and welfare, including protection of the environment and wildlife resources."
The commission had argued that the Oil and Gas Conservation Act required it to strike a balance between the regulation of oil and gas operations and protecting public health, the environment and wildlife resources.
The six plaintiffs in the case are Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, Itzcuahtli Roske-Martinez, Sonora Brinkley, Aerielle Deering, Trinity Carter and Emma Bray. All are members of the Boulder-based youth group Earth Guardians.
The youth hand-delivered their petition for rulemaking in November 2013 to the commission. Their petition asked the commission to develop and implement a rule to stop the permitting of fracking until and if, oil and gas development can be done without causing harm to humans and without impairing Colorado's natural resources, including atmospheric resources and climate change.
"By its decision today, the court has concluded that the commission has full statutory authority to adopt Petitioner's proposed rule," Julia Olson, plaintiffs' counsel and executive director of Our Children's Trust, said. "The commission can no longer decide to prioritize oil and gas development over the health and safety of Coloradans. This is an enormous victory for these youth. We look forward to helping the youth of Colorado go back before the commission on remand."
Martinez, youth director of Earth Guardians, shared his excitement on the win. "Our movement to fight for the rights of people and our environment is evolving," he said.
"From the streets to the courtroom, the voices of the younger generation will be heard and the legal system is a tool for our resistance. Small wins build up to create massive change. I'm very optimistic about the potential this lawsuit has to protect my Colorado. Now more than ever, we will see people reclaiming the power."
Martinez is one of 21 youth plaintiffs in Juliana v. United States, a climate case brought in federal court and headed to trial this fall in U.S. District Court in Oregon. The American Petroleum Institute (API) is an intervenor defendant in both Martinez's Colorado and federal case. API represents the interests of the oil and gas industry supporting the commission in Colorado and the Trump administration in federal court. On Friday, attorneys representing Martinez and his co-plaintiffs in that case, served API and the federal government with requests for emails to or from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's pseudonym,Wayne Tracker.
Climate Kids Demand Feds to Turn Over 'Wayne Tracker' Emails https://t.co/j6xZFVkmYH @climate_rev @sandbagorguk— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1490130905.0
Judges ruling on the side of youth plaintiffs were Judge Terry Fox and Judge JoAnn Vogt, with Judge Laurie Booras dissenting. In Booras' dissent, she wrote:
"I respectfully dissent from the majority's conclusion that the statutory scheme of the Oil and Gas Conservation Act (the Act), §§ 34-60-101 to -130, C.R.S. 2016, requires protection of public health, safety and welfare as a determinative factor, instead of requiring balancing between those considerations and oil and gas production."
In this Colorado case, however, the youth won their right to have their health, safety and welfare take precedence over oil and gas drilling. They will head back to district court with the support of Coloradans from across the state, hundreds of whom marched in support of their case prior to their hearing before the Colorado Court of Appeals last month.
Martinez v. Colorado Oil and Gas is one of many related legal actions brought by youth in several states and countries, all supported by Our Children's Trust, seeking science-based action by governments to stabilize the climate system.
Within 100 hours of Donald Trump's inauguration, in the first and largest youth-led mobilization of 2017, thousands of students across the country walked-out of class in protest of Trump and his corrupt fossil fuel billionaire cabinet. This comes just two days after nearly 3 million people mobilized in Women's Marches around the world. Students on dozens of campuses across the country are demanding administrations resist and reject Trump's climate denial cabinet by divesting from fossil fuels and reinvesting in solutions to the climate crisis.
Today students will walk out of class to stand against Trump's climate denial. Live updates here… https://t.co/vgunPFBuJ2— 350 dot org (@350 dot org)1485184319.0
"In the face of Trump's dangerous climate denial, youth are rising up," said Greta Neubauer, director of the Divestment Student Network. "For any chance at curbing the worst impacts of climate change, our universities must stand on the right side of history with students and take action now against Trump's climate denial. We won't allow Trump and his fossil fuel billionaire cabinet to foreclose on our future."
#ClimateChange Purged From White House Website https://t.co/6zGYt7RDMp @billmckibben @LeoDiCaprio @MarkRuffalo @BillNye @NRDC @SierraClub— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1485181668.0
Monday's day of action, dubbed #ResistRejectDenial, is also the largest youth-led mobilization in the history of the fossil fuel divestment movement. Students and youth have been a driving force leading the fossil fuel divestment movement to be the mainstream global movement it is today, with more than 600 institutions across 76 countries representing more than $5.2 trillion in assets committing to some level of divestment.
The same day as Trump's inauguration, the Oregon State University board unanimously voted to divest from all fossil fuels. Other key commitments from colleges and universities in the U.S. include the University of Massachusetts Foundation, the University of Maryland, as well as Georgetown University and the University of California school system that have committed to partial fossil fuel divestment. Divestment has taken hold on campuses around the world, including in the United Kingdom where a quarter of universities have committed to divest.
"I need my university to stand up for our futures under Trump's dangerous and corrupt climate denial," said Samantha Smyth, sophomore at Appalachian State University. "We must disavow the blatant disregard for our well-being and future by climate deniers in office. We must stand up for the millions of people who are dying at the hands of powerful, morally corrupt individuals who deny climate change."
Prior to election day, young people proved themselves a force to be reckoned with. This was demonstrated in unprecedented political engagement throughout the election, challenging candidates to take stronger stances on climate, as well as in youth organized sit-ins at senate offices, engagement in mass mobilizations such as Women's Marches and the #DayAgainstDenial and rallying to oppose Trump's corrupt climate-denying appointees.
Young people have been a driving factor in pushing our institutions to stand on the right side of history, with two consecutive years of on-campus escalation from 100 campuses, resulting in more than 30 arrests, with victory at the University of Massachusetts, University of California and University of Oregon. Since 2014, thousands of students across the country have participated in national escalation for fossil fuel divestment.
Beyond fossil fuel divestment, young people are taking action to ensure elected officials take necessary action on climate and against Big Oil. In an ongoing lawsuit, 21 young people from across the U.S. filed a landmark lawsuit against the federal government for its failure to address the effects of climate change.
Feds Respond to Allegations in Historic Lawsuit: Fossil Fuel Emissions Put Humans on 'Dangerous Path' https://t.co/TcJ7bHmK6H @CeresNews— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1484829314.0
"This is a wake up call to Donald Trump; there are almost 75 million people in this country under the age of 18," said Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, youth director of Earth Guardians and a plaintiff in the federal climate change lawsuit. "We didn't have an opportunity to vote in the past election, but we will suffer the consequences of climate inaction to a greater degree than any living generation. Our right to a just and livable future is nonnegotiable."
Just last week, the World Meteorological Organization confirmed that 2016 was the hottest year on record and the second hottest year in U.S. history surpassing records of 2015 and 2014. Extreme weather, including storms, floods and droughts, are impacting communities at a pace and magnitude far exceeding previous predictions, making it even more crucial that institutions divest and take meaningful action on climate.
"It's Official: 2016 Was the Hottest Year Ever Recorded" via @ClimateNexus/@EcoWatch: https://t.co/meonGdUrDY— Michael E. Mann (@Michael E. Mann)1484780151.0
"Hope is something we must create. In this moment, the best way to do that is by taking action and showing that we will rise to this moment," said Neubauer. "When it comes to climate change, time is not on our side. This is just the beginning of the opposition that the Trump's Administration should expect from young people"
At a time when humanity must reverse course before plunging over a climate cliff, the American public has elected a president who seems to have both feet on the fossil fuel accelerator. If there is a mechanism to force the Trump Administration to put the brakes on dirty energy policy, a lawsuit brought by 21 young people against the Obama administration may hold the key.
Two days after the presidential election, on Nov. 10, a federal district court in Oregon issued a path-breaking decision in Juliana v. U.S. declaring that youth—indeed, all citizens—hold constitutional rights to a stable climate system.
Victory for America's Youth: Federal Judge Rules Climate Lawsuit Can Proceed https://t.co/iXxiZvf5Nf @climatecouncil @energyaction— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1478913606.0
The youth, aged nine to 20 years old, seek a court-supervised plan to lower carbon dioxide emissions at a rate set by a science-based prescription. The judicial role is analogous to court-supervised remedies protecting equal opportunity for students after Brown v. Board of Education.
The Juliana v. U.S. decision could be a legal game-changer, as it challenges the entire fossil-fuel policy of the U.S.
Environmental lawsuits typically rely on statutes or regulations. But Juliana is a human rights case that bores down to legal bedrock by asserting constitutional rights to inherit a stable climate system.
The court, which ruled the suit can proceed to trial, rightly described the case as a "civil rights action"—an action "of a different order than the typical environmental case"—because it alleges that government actions "have so profoundly damaged our home planet that they threaten plaintiffs' constitutional rights to life and liberty." The litigation, variously called "a "ray of hope," a legal "long shot" and a "Hail Mary pass," yielded its groundbreaking decision not a moment too soon.
At a rally for action on climate in 2014. The decisions made by adults will have broad implications for the planet today's youth will live on as adults. Joe Brusky / Flickr
To have any hope of reversing or stalling these effects of climate change, the world must restrict fossil fuel production and ultimately switch to safe renewable energy. Even continued production solely from currently operating oil and gas fields will push the planet to 1.5 degrees Celsius over preindustrial temperatures, beyond the aspirational limit set by the global Paris agreement on climate change.
President-elect Trump, who notoriously claimed that climate change was a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, has said he plans to immediately approve the highly contentious Keystone pipeline, open public land to drilling, rescind Obama's Clean Power Plan, eliminate NASA's climate research and withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. He intends to spur production of US$50 trillion worth of shale, oil, coal and natural gas.
The 70-year-old president-elect will not live long enough to witness the worst consequences of rapidly expanding fossil fuel development. The cruel irony for young people is that actions taken during Trump's time in office will lock in a future of severe disruptions within their projected lifetimes—and sea level rise that could make coastal cities uninhabitable. James Hansen, formerly the nation's chief climate scientist at NASA, has warned, "Failure to act with all deliberate speed …functionally becomes a decision to eliminate the option of preserving a habitable climate system."
Sea levels are projected to rise at least three feet, and perhaps much more, in the lifetime of children today, inundating some locations and making storm surges more dangerous. The Juliana lawsuit and others like it argue that citizens have a right to a stable climate. NOAA
For decades, the political branches have promoted fossil fuel consumption despite longstanding knowledge about the climate danger. President Obama ignored warnings when he charted a disastrous course of increased fossil fuel production early in office. In a last moment of opportunity to avert climate tipping points, Americans should recall an elementary school civics lesson: The U.S. has three, not two, branches of government. The founders wisely vested an independent judiciary with the responsibility of upholding the fundamental liberties of citizens against infringement by the other branches.
As the president-elect promises to ramp up fossil fuel production and dismantle Obama's recent climate measures, and with no obvious statutory law to prevent him from doing so, only a fundamental rights approach carries any hope of trumping Trump.
In Juliana, the youth asserted their fundamental rights under the Constitution's substantive due process clause and the public trust doctrine. This is an ancient principle requiring government to hold and protect essential resources as a sustaining endowment for citizens. They contended that government infringed on their rights to life, liberty, and property by promoting fossil fuel policies that threaten runaway planetary heating—thereby jeopardizing human life, private property and civilization itself.
The principle of public trust law, dating to the time of Roman Emperor Justinian, holds that natural resources, including the sea, the shores of the sea, the air and running water, are common to everyone. It has since become part of U.S. jurisprudence. Petar Milošević / Wikipedia
Judge Ann Aiken's Juliana decision in November upheld both public trust and substantive due process rights under the Constitution and allowed the case to go forward. "I have no doubt that the right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society," she wrote, explaining that public trust rights, which "both predated the Constitution and are secured by it," cannot be "legislated away."
The opinion is bound to have a rippling effect. The case is actually part of a wave of atmospheric trust litigation (ATL) cases and petitions across the U.S. and in other countries. Launched by the group Our Children's Trust in 2011, the legal campaign asserts youths' rights to a stable climate system and seeks court-supervised climate recovery plans.
Recent victories in Massachusetts, Pakistan, the Netherlands and Washington state indicate widespread judicial concern over the political branches' failure to confront the climate emergency. The youth plaintiffs hope that the dominoes continue to fall in their favor in time to thwart climate catastrophe.
As ATL moves forward globally, the Juliana case will proceed to trial as early as next summer or fall. The plaintiffs' attorneys aim to show the government's deliberate indifference to mounting climate danger.
Already dubbed "the trial of the century," this is the first time that U.S. fossil fuel policy will confront climate science in court. Any government denial of climate change will have to confront the scrutiny of a fact-finding judge.
Consent Degree From Obama?
The case also offers President Obama a fleeting opportunity.
Five days after the election, Sec. of State Kerry proclaimed that President Obama would use his last days in office to "do everything possible to meet our responsibility to future generations to be able to address this threat to life itself on the planet."
If so, the most viable way might be to offer a partial settlement of the Juliana case before going to trial. One form of settlement could be an enforceable consent decree consisting of interim steps to halt further fossil-fuel mining and infrastructure development. Such a settlement would help secure Obama's measures to close the Arctic to drilling and halt coal leasing on federal lands.
Young Americans could use a down payment on the colossal climate mortgage hanging over their future. And President Obama could use a climate legacy. It may be worth his time now to sit down with the "plucky millennials" who sued him to save the planet—before his time in office runs out.
Mary Wood is the Philip H. Knight Professor of Law at the University of Oregon. Charles W. Woodward, IV is a post graduate research fellow at University of Oregon. Michael C. Blumm is the Jeffrey Bain Scholar & Professor of Law at Lewis & Clark. Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.
The federal court in Eugene, Oregon decided in favor of 21 youth plaintiffs on Thursday, in their "groundbreaking" constitutional climate lawsuit against President Obama, numerous federal agencies and the fossil fuel industry. U.S.
District Court Judge Ann Aiken rejected all arguments to dismiss raised by the federal government and fossil fuel industry, determining that the young plaintiffs' constitutional and public trust claims could proceed. Now, the 21 plaintiffs, who range in age from 9-20, are preparing for trial in what is believed to be a turning point in U.S. constitutional history.
"My generation is rewriting history," said Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, a 16-year-old plaintiff and youth director of Earth Guardians. "We're doing what so many people told us we were incapable of doing: holding our leaders accountable for their disastrous and dangerous actions. I and my co-plaintiffs are demanding justice for our generation and justice for all future generations. This is going to be the trial of our lifetimes."
In determining the complaint to be valid, Judge Aiken's ruling contained these passages:
"Federal courts too often have been cautious and overly deferential in the arena of environmental law and the world has suffered for it."
"Although the United States has made international commitments regarding climate change, granting the relief requested here would be fully consistent with those commitments. There is no contradiction between promising other nations the United States will reduce CO2 emissions and a judicial order directing the United States to go beyond its international commitments to more aggressively reduce CO2 emissions."
"[The defendants and intervenors] are correct that plaintiffs likely could not obtain the relief they seek through citizen suits brought under the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act or other environmental laws. But that argument misses the point. This action is of a different order than the typical environmental case. It alleges that defendants' actions and inactions—whether or not they violate any specific statutory duty— have so profoundly damaged our home planet that they threaten plaintiffs' fundamental constitutional rights to life and liberty."
"This decision is one of the most significant in our nation's history," said Julia Olson, counsel for the plaintiffs and executive director of Our Children's Trust.
"This is a critical step toward solution of the climate problem and none to soon as climate change is accelerating," said Dr. James Hansen, guardian in the case for all future generations and world-renowned climate scientist. "Now we must ask the court to require the government to reduce fossil fuel emissions at a rate consistent with the science."
4 Reasons the Paris Agreement Won’t Solve Climate Change https://t.co/nK7hl6v2Aw @GreenpeaceUK @foeeurope @globalactplan— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1476089117.0
The young plaintiffs sued the federal government for violating their constitutional rights to life, liberty and property, and their rights to vital public trust resources, by locking in a fossil-fuel based national energy system for more than five decades with full knowledge of the extreme dangers it posed.
"It's clear Judge Aiken gets what's at stake for us," said 17-year-old plaintiff Victoria Barrett, from White Plains, New York. "Our planet and our generation don't have time to waste. If we continue on our current path, my school in Manhattan will be underwater in 50 years. We are moving to trial and I'm looking forward to having the world see the incredible power my generation holds. We are going to put our nation on a science-based path toward climate stabilization."
This federal case is one of many related legal actions brought by youth in several states and countries, all supported by Our Children's Trust, seeking science-based action by governments to stabilize the climate system.
[Editor's note: Watch live today, Sept. 13, at 3 p.m. ET, the press event immediately following the ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken on EcoWatch's Facebook page.]
A critical hearing in the landmark climate lawsuit brought by 21 youth plaintiffs across the U.S. will take place in just four days at a federal courthouse in Eugene, Oregon.
On Sept. 13, U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken will hear oral arguments representing all of the parties on Juliana, et al. v. United States, et al, which was first filed in 2015 by the young plaintiffs, ages 8-19, and climate scientist Dr. James Hansen.
According to the nonprofit Our Children's Trust, "the plaintiffs are suing the federal government for violating their constitutional rights to life, liberty and property and their right to essential public trust resources, by permitting, encouraging and otherwise enabling continued exploitation, production and combustion of fossil fuels."
Judge Aiken will review an earlier decision from U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin of the same federal court. In April, Judge Coffin surprisingly ruled in favor of the young plaintiffs despite motions from the government and the fossil fuel industry to dismiss the case. The fate of the historic lawsuit is now in Judge Aiken's hands, who will determine whether the case will either proceed toward trial or to appeal.
Kids Get Their Day in Court: 21 Youth Sue U.S. Government in Landmark Climate Lawsuit https://t.co/VHpQwKE6Mn via @EcoWatch #ActOnClimate— YEARS (@YEARS)1465752912.0
One of the plaintiffs, Jayden, is a 13-year-old resident from Rayne, Louisiana. The hearing is particularly significant especially after last month's
climate change-fueled flooding destroyed most of Jayden's home.
"They called it a thousand-year flood, meaning it should only happen every thousand years or so," Jayden said. "But in my state—Louisiana—we have had that thousand-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. Soon I will leave my home, which is still a mess—no walls, no carpet, even my little brothers toys were destroyed! But I feel like I have to go to court, because my little brother can't speak for himself, he's too little. But I can speak for him, and for everyone in my generation. It's time we were heard. It's time President Obama protects our future, and my little brothers future."
Representing the plaintiffs are attorneys Julia A. Olson of Wild Earth Advocates, Philip L. Gregory of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, LLP and Daniel M. Galpern.
"My client Jayden, who is 13 years old, just survived a thousand-year flood event that devastated her home with sewage-contaminated rivers running through her bedroom and her community," said Olson, who is also the executive director and chief legal counsel of Our Children's Trust.
"This is the ninth flood event that is supposed to happen once every 500 years or more to hit her region in two years, floods that would not happen but for climate change. Yet, the national energy policy of the U.S. is 'drill baby, drill.' And by 2040, fossil fuel consumption will still make up more than 75 percent of our energy supply compared to 80 percent today. According to these federal defendants, by 2040 our carbon dioxide emissions will at best be flatlining at dangerous levels. Make no mistake, the U.S. government has caused climate change and continues to promote a fossil fuel system that is violating the rights of these 21 young plaintiffs."
In his April decision, Judge Coffin indicated that since young people will face the brunt of global warming, they have the right to sue the government for climate justice. He wrote:
"The debate about climate change and its impact has been before various political bodies for some time now. Plaintiffs give this debate justiciability by asserting harms that befall or will befall them personally and to a greater extent than older segments of society. It may be that eventually the alleged harms, assuming the correctness of plaintiffs' analysis of the impacts of global climate change, will befall all of us. But the intractability of the debates before Congress and state legislatures and the alleged valuing of short-term economic interest despite the cost to human life, necessitates a need for the courts to evaluate the constitutional parameters of the action or inaction taken by the government. This is especially true when such harms have an alleged disparate impact on a discrete class of society."
"Jayden and her fellow plaintiffs will be entering the hearing Tuesday with momentum from legal victories from their peers," Our Children's Trust stated. "Aside from their own victory before Judge Coffin, they are emboldened by other youth plaintiff wins in state courts in Washington, Massachusetts and New Mexico. Not to mention other state and international legal actions underway, all with support from Our Children's Trust."
In June, plaintiff Xiuhtezcatl Martinez stopped by Real Time with Bill Maher to talk about the lawsuit and the importance of government action on climate.
"We have a right to a healthy atmosphere and [the government] is directly in violation of our public trust and of our constitutional right to a healthy atmosphere," the teenage environmental activist said. "[My generation] is calling out our leaders and reminding them they are not doing the job they are put here to do."