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Tuesday, November 6, 2018

The kids are back

In RI and across the US, kids are going to court to challenge lack of government action on climate change.
By Will Collette

Image result for children's lawsuit on climate changeWith Election Day here and gone, and no miracles in sight, its nice to know there is a new generation coming up that may do better than we have.

In recent weeks, young people here in Rhode Island and across the country have taken their challenge to governmental inaction on climate change to court. They are arguing their legal right to live is threatened by government policies that condone, if not encourage, fossil fuel energy production blamed by virtually every scientist on the planet for triggering our worsening climate change.

They have been fought by those same governmental agencies who want the kids to shut up and stay out of their business.

In Rhode Island, the children’s petition was rejected out of hand by the RI Department of Environmental Management.

At the federal level, Trump officials have filed challenge after challenge to try to get the kids’ lawsuits thrown out of court.

But the kids are persisting and, I hope with all my heart, they will prevail.

Here are two informative articles on positive developments on the legal front for the children’s crusade. The first is from EcoRI on the struggle in Rhode Island.

The second, from ThinkProgress, discusses the Supreme Court’s decision to allow the children’s lawsuit to process after the Trump administration managed to get a lower court to block the scheduled trial.

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

The student-led effort to force Rhode Island to get tough on climate change has taken its case to court. On Nov. 2, the group Nature’s Trust Rhode Island filed a lawsuit in Rhode Island Superior Court seeking to force the state to comply with its petition to take decisive action on climate change.

The petition was denied by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management on Oct. 5. The 200-page petition asks for a statewide plan that includes the precautionary principle, environmental justice, an emissions budget and accounting, natural carbon storage, and negative emissions.

The group of 12 students from second grade to graduate school vowed to press their case, as similar legal efforts play out across the country.

On. Nov. 2, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed a major climate trial to go forward. Juliana v. United States has drawn international attention for its novel argument led by young plaintiffs who accuse the federal government of violating their constitutional rights by failing to mitigate climate change.

The case, filed in 2015, was set to proceed in U.S. District Court in Eugene, Ore., on Oct. 29 but the trial was delayed after President Trump and the Justice Department asked that the case be dismissed. The 21 plaintiffs are seeking a new trial date. 

The lawsuit wants the federal government to create a plan that reduces the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million by 2100. The current recorded amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is nearly 406 ppm.

In a show of support for the youth-led climate trial, local environmental groups recently rallied outside U.S. District Court in Providence. Climate Action RI/350 RI, Nature's Trust Rhode Island, Zero Hour, and the Raging Grannies of Greater Westerly hosted the peaceful protest.

“My generation is the one that is going to be inheriting the incredibly damaging impacts of the continued burning of fossil fuels,” said Zanagee Artis, a Brown University student and co-founder of Zero Hour, a youth-run environmental activist group.

Similar youth-led legal challenges are happening across the country. On Oct. 30, a case in Alaska was dismissed by state Superior Court. A similar case was dismissed in the State of Washington in August.

Supreme Court won’t block young people’s climate change lawsuit
Justices Thomas and Gorsuch would have stopped the historic effort from going forward.
A landmark case brought by a group of young people attempting to force the federal government to take action on climate change will proceed despite efforts from the Trump administration to stop the lawsuit in its tracks.

On Friday night, the Supreme Court declined to halt the lawsuit, Juliana vs. United States, after briefly delaying it last month to consider an emergency request from the government.

The suit alleges that the plaintiffs’ constitutional right to life and liberty has been compromised by the government’s decision to create an energy system reliant on fossil fuels, in addition to arguing that it has failed to protect public trust resources like U.S. waters and general atmosphere.

In a three-page order, the court denied the stay while declaring that the Trump administration can still seek a stay in the 9th Circuit Court. 

The government contends that the lawsuit is “based on an assortment of unprecedented legal theories” and that the issues at play do not belong in the courtroom. 

But the Supreme Court kicked the case back to the lower court after initially granting the government the stay.

“[T]he Government’s petition for a writ of mandamus does not have a ‘fair prospect’ of success in this Court because adequate relief may be available in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit,” read the order on Friday, noting that the case could still return to the Supreme Court.

The 2015 lawsuit has survived multiple efforts to have it dismissed under both the Obama and Trump administrations. Filed by 21 children and young adults who range in age from 11 to 22, the suit is one of the most closely-watched legal efforts targeting climate change in the country.

Legal experts have pointed to the suit as potentially groundbreaking climate litigation, given that it seeks to hold the federal government accountable for its role in perpetuating climate change. A final decision could shape the future of litigation on climate issues for years to come.

Supporters of the suit lauded the Supreme Court’s decision on Friday as a crucial step forward.
“These young people have clinched a critical victory in the fight to preserve a livable planet,” said Kassie Siegel, who directs the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute, in a statement sent to ThinkProgress and other outlets. “Thanks to the brave plaintiffs, the Trump administration’s climate denial and obstruction is now on trial. Our money is on the kids.”

Julie Olson, the executive director and chief legal counsel for Our Children’s Trust, which is supporting the lawsuit, greeted the news in a statement.

“The youth of our nation won an important decision today from the Supreme Court that shows even the most powerful government in the world must follow the rules and process of litigation in our democracy,” said Olson. “We have asked the District Court for an immediate status conference to get Juliana v. U.S. back on track for trial in the next week.”

Both Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch indicated they would have stopped the lawsuit entirely, while other justices did not indicate their views. If the case were to return to the Supreme Court, it is unclear how a majority of the bench would rule.

Kelsey Juliana, the 22-year-old plaintiff whose name leads the lawsuit, said Friday that she hoped the latest round of litigation would finally allow the case to head towards a conclusion.

“I’m tired of playing this game. These petitions for stay and dismissal are exhausting,” Juliana said. “To everyone who has invested in this case, to those who’ve followed along our journey for the past three years and counting: stay with us, in hope and in the pursuit of justice.”