In December, we published a post on the effort to persuade then-President Obama to settle Juliana v. United States in the waning days of his presidency. This lawsuit—filed in 2015 by 21 young plaintiffs ages 8–19, joined by Dr. James Hansen—claims the federal government has violated the young plaintiffs’ “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.” The case is one of a number of related legal actions supported by Our Children’s Trust, a nonprofit working on behalf of youth and future generations to seek science-based action by governments to stabilize the climate system.
President Obama didn’t settle Juliana v. United States before leaving office, but the administration’s answer to the complaint admitted many of its central allegations relating to climate change and the severity of its impact.
Although now proceeding under a starkly different administration, Our Children’s Trust legal actions continue to, in the words of the trust’s mission, “elevate the voice of youth to secure the legal right to a stable climate and healthy atmosphere for the benefit of all present and future generations,” as detailed by OTC Deputy Director Lou Helmeth below.
From Lou Helmuth, Deputy Director, Our Children’s Trust:
So much has been happening at Our Children’s Trust. Day in and day out, our cases advance and new developments arise. Late last week, our Colorado youth secured a victory against fracking at the Colorado Court of Appeals. The court ruled that Colorado’s Oil and Gas Commission regulations “are subject to the protection of public health, safety, and welfare, including the protection of natural resources and wildlife,” and not the other way around, as the state had argued. This positions the youth well for review of their requested rule to ban fracking until it can be proved safe. Congratulations Colorado youth!
Read: Colorado Youth Score Decisive Legal Victory Against Fracking Industry in Common Dreams
And as you know, Judge Ann Aiken issued her historic decision in our 21 youths’ landmark federal climate recovery lawsuit on November 10, 2016, finding for the first time in history, that:
- The U.S. Constitution protects the fundamental right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life; and
- The federal government is subject to the Public Trust Doctrine; and
- The court can order the federal government to prepare a science-based national climate recovery plan as a remedy for a violation of those rights.
Since that time, the 21 federal youth plaintiffs’ counsel have been meeting with top experts from around the country, from multiple disciplines, who will testify on the youths’ behalf at trial. As well, the youth plaintiffs have begun seeking revealing evidence from the fossil fuel defendants and will soon request evidence from the federal government defendants about what the government and industry knew and when, and how the fossil fuel industry unduly influenced government policy. All of this is in preparation for what has been called the “trial of the century,” scheduled to take place later this year.
Read: Trump could face the ‘biggest trial of the century’ – over climate change in The Washington Post
On March 7, the Trump administration moved to certify Judge Aiken’s November 10 historic ruling for an interlocutory appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and for a corresponding stay of proceedings in the U.S. District Court, seeking to delay trial preparations that have been underway now for months. Not surprisingly, on March 10, the fossil fuel defendants chimed in with a similar motion. The youth plaintiffs are preparing their oppositions to both motions and to the request to delay/stay the District Court proceedings. Such interlocutory appeals of non-final judgments are only granted in extraordinary situations, and only with the permission of both the issuing and reviewing courts.
Listen: A group of young Americans are suing the U.S. government over climate change on CBC Canada
We are optimistic that neither permission for the interlocutory appeal nor the stay will be granted. Both the federal government and fossil fuel defendants are re-arguing, now for the third time, the same arguments they have already argued in this case to both Judge Coffin and Judge Aiken, both of whom found against all of those arguments and in favor of the youth plaintiffs. Thus, we are optimistic that the motions for permission for interlocutory appeal, filed nearly four months after Judge Aiken’s Order, will be denied by that same District Court. We expect a decision from the court on those motions early this spring.
Read: Trump really doesn’t want to face these 21 kids on climate change in Mashable
In the meantime, youth are seeking to reveal from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (former CEO of ExxonMobil and American Petroleum Institute board member) a variety of documents, including emails he sent and received under the email pseudonym “Wayne.Tracker”. Additionally, the youth have sought information about the Global Climate Coalition, of which some of the fossil fuel defendants were active members. The Global Climate Coalition is known to have promoted climate denial and has a record of attempting to dissuade national and international efforts to combat climate change. The youths’ request for documents also asks for industry communications with the George W. Bush White House regarding its climate science and policy work and requests documents showing internal government and industry knowledge of projected growth of CO2 emissions and its likely impacts, and the industry influence on the affirmative government actions that exacerbated climate change. We expect these to be dramatically revealing disclosures.
So, we march forward each day on new developments and expanding strategy in this game-changing federal climate recovery lawsuit, and advance our state, local and global work daily as well. We are grateful for your continuing interest and for your ongoing support. We could not have made the progress we have thus far without you. On behalf of all of our youth plaintiffs, our teams, and all present and future generations, we thank you.
Everyone at Our Children’s Trust
PS: One last story for you! Don’t miss ‘Biggest Case on the Planet’ Pits Kids vs. Climate Change in National Geographic.