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Historic: Judge Rules Kids Can Sue Government Over Failure To Address Climate Change

Historic: Judge Rules Kids Can Sue Government Over Failure To Address Climate Change

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A group of Oregon children have been vindicated in federal court when a judge permitted their lawsuit to proceed against the government in the case called Kelsey vs. US. The legal action was started by Our Children’s Trust, an Oregon-based non-profit whose goals are to protect the Earth’s natural ecosystems for current and future generations. A group of children ages 8-19 from Oregon, Florida, Louisiana, Colorado and other states, are suing to protect the most important public trust we have: our environment. Their lawsuit alleges that these children will suffer concrete harm from the federal government’s knowledge that excessive carbon dioxide is warming our atmosphere, and that something must be done to stop the sea level rise and climate change from progressing any further.

A judge has agreed, dismissing the claims of a group of oil and gas industry groups who tried to end the novel lawsuit before it could begin. It’s no easy legal task to defeat the combined efforts of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), and the American Petroleum Institute (API) all at the same time, in a court of law. But the lawsuit’s major claims can now go into the fact finding phase of a trial:

For over fifty years, the Federal Government has known that carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution from burning fossil fuels was causing global warming and dangerous climate change, and that continuing to burn fossil fuels would destabilize the climate system on which present and future generations of our nation depend for their well-being and survival. Despite this full knowledge, the Federal Government has allowed and promoted the development and use of fossil fuels, thus increasing the concentration of CO2 emissions in the atmosphere to unsafe levels and creating the dangerous climate change and ocean acidification that we face today.

The suit is aimed at the US government as a whole, the President and several different branches of government. The Oregon kids claim that the government’s permits and subsidies to the fossil fuel industry have become, “Aggregate Actions that Cause Climate Destabilization.” They also believe that Section 201 of the Energy Policy Act is unconstitutional; that allowing a planned liquified natural gas terminal to be constructed in Oregon is against the plaintiffs’ collective interests in drastically reducing fossil fuel emissions. Legally speaking, the plaintiffs with Our Children’s Trust allege that their constitutional rights under the 5th amendment’s equal protection clause and due process clause are being violated.  Claiming a 9th Amendment right to powers not enumerated to the government being granted to the people, the Oregon kids have claimed “the right to be sustained by our country’s vital natural systems, including our climate system.” Lastly, and most importantly, the child-plaintiffs allege a major “Violation of the Public Trust Doctrine,” which:

“protects the rights of present and future generations to those essential natural resources that are of public concern to the citizens of our nation. These vital natural resources include at least the air (atmosphere), water, seas, the shores of the sea, and wildlife. The overarching public trust resource is our country’s life-sustaining climate system, which encompasses our atmosphere, waters, oceans, and biosphere. As sovereign trustees, Defendants have a duty to refrain from “substantial impairment” of these essential natural resources. The affirmative aggregate acts of Defendants in the areas of fossil fuel extraction, production, transportation, and consumption, have unconstitutionally caused, and continue to cause, substantial impairment to the essential public trust resources. Defendants have failed in their duty of care to safeguard the interests of Plaintiffs as the present and future beneficiaries of the public trust”

Republican climate denier politicians can’t keep causing gridlock while time is of the essence to fix or abate man made climate change. Because the children who are our future are fed up with bad politics and trust science over shameless pandering to big business interests that pervades the GOP’s environmental decisions. If the children win, then we all win, and the federal government will have the license it needs to aggressively change our carbon energy economy into a greener, cleaner economy.

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Grant Stern
is the Executive Editor of Occupy Democrats and published author. His new Meet the Candidates 2020 book series is distributed by Simon and Schuster. He's also mortgage broker, community activist and radio personality in Miami, Florida., as well as the producer of the Dworkin Report podcast. Grant is also an occasional contributor to Raw Story, Alternet, and the DC Report, and an unpaid senior advisor to the Democratic Coalition and a Director of Sunshine Agenda Inc. a government transparency nonprofit organization.

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