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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.
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.
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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."
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."
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.
"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."
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.
"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.
"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.
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."
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.
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."
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