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Kids Name Trump as Defendant in Landmark Climate Case

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Youth plaintiffs stand outside the federal courthouse in Eugene, Oregon, after a case management conference on Feb. 7 in the landmark federal lawsuit brought by 21 young plaintiffs against the federal government. Photo credit: Robin Loznak/ZUMAPRESS.com

Youth plaintiffs in Juliana v. United States filed a notice Thursday with a federal court in Oregon, naming Donald J. Trump as a defendant in their landmark climate case on pace for trial this fall. Plaintiffs have substituted President Trump as a named party in place of former President Barack Obama under the Federal Rules.

In Juliana v. United States, 21 young plaintiffs sued the federal government for violating their constitutional rights and their rights to vital public trust resources. The complaint alleges the government locked in a fossil-fuel based national energy system for more than five decades with full knowledge of the extreme dangers it posed. The plaintiffs have been further emboldened by President Trump's blatant climate denial, inspiring them in their fight to secure climate justice and a safe future.

"I look forward to taking on the Trump administration, as I think our new president, of all people, needs to have his power checked," said Kiran Ooommen, 20-year-old plaintiff from Eugene, Oregon. "President Trump benefits financially from the fossil fuel industry, but his benefit comes at a heavy cost for the rest of us. The policies of the U.S. government that ignore the threat of climate change are only going to get worse under the new presidency, based on Trump's apparent lack of understanding of climate science and his plans to invest further in the fossil fuel industry."

"We are ready to bring this case to trial with President Trump as a defendant," said Julia Olson, counsel for plaintiffs and executive director and chief legal counsel at Our Children's Trust. President Trump will not be able to perpetuate climate denialism in a court of law. That's just not going to happen."

At the Feb. 7 case management conference, Federal Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin made clear that the court will work closely with the parties throughout the pre-trial discovery process. He instructed all parties to prioritize expert discovery on the scientific components of the case and scheduled another status conference for March 8.

Judge Coffin encouraged all parties to streamline next steps to move the case to trial. At one point, Judge Coffin asked counsel for the fossil fuel industry if CO2 levels in the atmosphere are at 400 parts per million, as the federal government admitted. The fossil fuel attorneys responded that they did not know. Judge Coffin instructed counsel for the fossil fuel industry to determine whether they will contest facts that have been admitted by the federal government, including whether climate change is caused by burning fossil fuels.

At the end of the conference, counsel for the federal government surprised those in the courtroom when he stated the government is considering an early appeal of last fall's rulings denying motions to dismiss. Plaintiffs look forward to working diligently to complete discovery and have this case ready for trial in 2017.

On Jan. 24, lawyers for the youth plaintiffs notified the U.S. government that it must retain all documents, records and tangible things relating to the plaintiffs' claims in their complaint. On Monday, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Acting Administrator Catherine McCabe confirmed that documents and records would not be destroyed. McCabe said: "We have taken no actions to delete data and we are taking steps to preserve and make available the scientific data and information that we have collected over the years …"

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