Court lets American youth sue government over climate change

A federal court in Eugene, Oregan is allowing 21 youth plaintiffs to proceed in their groundbreaking constitutional climate lawsuit against the Obama administration, federal agencies and the fossil fuel industry. The 21 plaintiffs are now preparing for the trial.

It’s an unprecedented victory for America’s youth: last week, US District Court Judge Ann Aiken rejected all the arguments raised by the federal government and fossil fuel industry to dismiss the constitutional climate lawsuit launched by 21 youth plaintiffs, who range in age from 9 to 20.

“Federal courts too often have been cautious and overly deferential in the arena of environmental law, and the world has suffered for it,” wrote Judge Aiken.

She dismissed the argument made by the defendants and intervenors that the US has already made international commitments regarding climate change, insisting instead that allowing the lawsuit to proceed is in fact consistent with those commitments.

“There is no contradiction between promising other nations the United States will reduce C02 emissions and a judicial order directing the United States to go beyond its international commitments to more aggressively reduce C02 emissions.”

“This decision is one of the most significant in our nation’s history,” said Julia Olson, counsel for the plaintiffs. “This court just gave the youth of this country the critical opportunity to protect their futures.”

The young plaintiffs felt vindicated by the decision.

“It’s clear Judge Aiken gets what’s at stake for us,” said 17-year-old plaintiff Victoria Barrett. “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.

Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, a 16-year-old plaintiff said that the upcoming proceedings will be the “trial of our lifetimes”, allowing the plaintiffs to hold the federal government and fossil fuel industry accountable for their disastrous and dangers actions.

As we reported earlier here, 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, arguing that it locked the plaintiffs into a fossil-fuel based national energy system for over five decades despite having full knowledge of the extreme dangers it posed.


Image credit: Dan Alcalde, flickr/Creative Commons

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