Climate change was on the agenda in a state court in Washington last week. On April 29, a Superior Court judge ruled in favor of 7 young plaintiffs. He ordered the state’s Department of Ecology to promulgate an emissions reduction rule by the end of 2016. He also ordered the agency to make recommendations to the state legislature about how to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions in the 2017 legislative session. The department must also consult with the youthful petitioners about that recommendation.
The climate change lawsuit was brought on behalf of the 7 children by Our Children’s Trust. On its website, the organization says its mission is to elevate “the voice of youth to secure the legal right to a healthy atmosphere and stable climate for the benefit of all present and future generations. Through our programs, youth participate in advocacy, public education and civic engagement to ensure the viability of all natural systems in accordance with science.”
Our Children’s Trust is also the prime mover in other climate change lawsuits brought on behalf of young people in various courts around the country. In March, it achieved a significant victory when a federal court magistrate in Oregon denied motions to dismiss a suit brought by 21 plaintiffs ranging in age from 8 to 19 against the United States. The motions were supported by virtually every fossil fuel interest and lobbying group on the face of the planet.
Judge Hollis Hill of the Superior Court for Kings County, Washington, said in his ruling, “This is an urgent situation … these kids can’t wait.” The judge made reference to the catastrophic impacts of climate change globally, including the impending loss of polar bears and low-lying countries like Bangladesh. While the court has no jurisdiction outside of the state of Washington, it does have jurisdiction over the Department of Ecology. It has now ordered that agency to comply with state law and do its part to address the crisis.
This is not the first time Judge Hill has ruled in this matter. Last fall, he found the state has a “mandatory duty” to “preserve, protect and enhance the air quality for the current and future generations.” He went on to say, our “very survival depends upon the will of [our] elders to act now … to stem the tide of global warming.” Despite the judge’s words, the Washington Department of Ecology decided to withdraw a proposed rule to reduce carbon emissions. That decision did not sit well with the judge.
The legal actions brought by Our Children’s Trust are designed to disrupt the political culture in the United States. Thanks to the solons of the US Supreme Court, the people with the most money get to speak the loudest and control the political debate. Most people would be shocked to find that 60% of all Americans are represented in Congress by someone who is a “climate denier.”
These lawmakers are more interested in getting re-elected than representing their constituents. They are implacable foes of any and all proposals to address global warming. They advocate strongly for the right of their wealthy clients to expand mining and drilling operations on public land. They oppose clean water and clean air standards for their own selfish gain, oblivious to the needs of society.
“This case explains why youth around this country and in several other countries, are forced to bring their governments to court to secure a healthy atmosphere and stable climate,” Julia Olson, executive director and chief legal counsel at Our Children’s Trust, said. “Despite clear scientific evidence and judicial recognition of the urgency of the climate crisis, Washington and most governments across the U.S. and other countries are failing to take correspondingly urgent, science-based action. That failure unfairly consigns youth to a disproportionately bleak future against which they can only reasonably ask the courts to step in to address this most time sensitive issue of our time.”
In addition to the lawsuit in Washington, similar legal actions are pending in North Carolina, Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts.