U.S. District Court to Hear Youth in Landmark Federal Climate Lawsuit Tomorrow

By Yessenia Funes Sep 12, 2016

Tomorrow (September 13), 21 youth plaintiffs and Dr. James Hansen, a climate scientist at Columbia University who is representing future generations, will stand before U.S. District Court to argue for their constitutional right to a stable climate, which will bring their lawsuit against the U.S. federal government either into trial or appeal.

The 9- to 20-year-olds filed the lawsuit last year with the help of Our Children’s Trust, an organization which supports youth internationally in legal climate change-related action. Their case is against President Barack Obama, members of his cabinet, the EPA and the fossil fuel industry, which intervened in the lawsuit in January 2016.

Their amended complaint filed in September 2015 states:

Defendants have for decades ignored experts they commissioned to evaluate the danger to our Nation, as well as their own plans for stopping the dangerous destabilization of the climate system. Specifically, Defendants have known of the unusually dangerous risks of harm to human life, liberty, and property that would be caused by continued fossil fuel burning. Instead, Defendants have willfully ignored this impending harm. By their exercise of sovereign authority over our country’s atmosphere and fossil fuel resources, they permitted, encouraged, and otherwise enabled continued exploitation, production, and combustion of fossil fuels, and so, by and through their aggregate actions and omissions, Defendants deliberately allowed atmospheric CO2 concentrations to escalate to levels unprecedented in human history, resulting in a dangerous destabilizing climate system for our country and these Plaintiffs.

The government and fossil fuel industry filed a motion to dismiss the case in January. However, in April, U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin ruled in favor of the 21 youth, 10 of whom are Indigenous or Black. The legal win is also intended to benefit future generations. Coffin wrote:

If the allegations in the complaint are to be believed, the failure to regulate the emissions has resulted in a danger of constitutional proportions to the public health. Presumably, sweeping regulations by this agency (the EPA) alone could result in curtailing of major C02 producing activities by not just the defendant agencies, but by the purported independent third parties as well. 5 At this pleading stage, the court need not sort out the necessity or propriety of all the various agencies and individuals to participate as defendants, at least with respect to issues of standing. For now, it is sufficient that EP A’s action/inaction with respect to the regulation of greenhouse gases allegedly results in the numerous instances of emissions that purportedly cause or will cause the plaintiffs harm.

Plaintiff Jayden Foytlin, 13, had her Rayne, Louisiana, home flooded in the aftermath of the state’s historic flooding event last month.

“They called it a thousand year flood, meaning it should only happen every thousand years or so,” said Foytlin in a statement sent to Colorlines. “But in my state, Louisiana, we have had that 1,000 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 brother’s future.”

Youth plaintiffs who have launched similar lawsuits on the state level have seen successes in Washington, Massachusetts and New Mexico. Tomorrow’s hearing will take place in Eugene, Oregon, at 10 a.m. PST.