Four young plaintiffs sued the Commonwealth of Massachusetts after the Department of Environmental Protection refused to promulgate effective regulations to implement the Global Warming Solutions Act passed by the state legislature in 2008. In an opinion by Justice Cordy, the Court unanimously sided with the Conservation Law Foundation, the Massachusetts Energy Consumer Alliance, and fthe four teenage plaintiffs in asserting that DEP failed its legal obligation to enforce the 2008 law.
“This is a historic day,” said Jenny Rushlow, CLF’s lead attorney on the case. “Today our highest court declared clearly and unequivocally that our leaders can no longer sit on their hands while Massachusetts communities are put at risk from the effects of climate change. Thanks to this landmark decision, our role as a national leader in battling climate change has only been stalled but not sacrificed. Now, with action from DEP, we can get back on track and ensure that the health of our families and future generations is always a top priority.”
Justice Cordy wrote that “the purpose of [the Global Warming Solutions Act] is to attain actual, measurable, and permanent emission reductions in the Commonwealth, and the Legislature included [the relevant section] in the statute to ensure that legally mandated reductions are realized by the 2020 deadline.” The judge also wrote that the relevant section of the Global Warming Solutions Act is “unambiguous” and “requires the department to promulgate regulations that establish volumetric limits on multiple greenhouse gas emissions sources…[that] must decline on an annual basis.”
The decision calls for the DEP to “address multiple sources or categories of sources of greenhouse gas emissions” and “set emission limits for each year” to meet the state’s emission-reduction goals for 2020.
The decision is the latest victory in law suits files by young plaintiffs with support from Oregon nonprofit Our Children’s Trust. Over the past few years, the organization has helped youth plaintiffs file climate cases in all 50 states, in addition to a federal lawsuit that cleared a key hurdle last month. In one case in Washington, a judge recently ruled in favor of eight young Seattle area petitioners. It ordered the Washington Department of Ecology to release an emissions rule by the end of 2016.
Julia Olson, executive director and chief legal counsel at Our Children’s Trust, stressed on Tuesday the need for climate action so “youth are not unfairly consigned to a disproportionately bleak future.”
Climate activists in Massachusetts are pushing for the state to enact a carbon fee that would raise the price of fossil fuels consumed in the state to a level commensurate with the damage they do to people and the environment. The administration of Republican governor Charlie Baker is resisting the idea, but this legal decision may help push it closer to fruition.
Source and photo credit: Conservation Law Foundation