Landmark Climate Case Moves Forward Against US Federal Government

The landmark climate lawsuit teenagers filed against the US federal government can go forward, decided Judge Thomas Coffin of the Federal District Court in Eugene, Oregon.

Coffin ruled against the motion to dismiss the case, requested by the federal government and three fossil fuel trade associations.

This is a huge victory for the 21 youth plaintiffs, ages 8-19, who are suing the government for violating their constitutional rights to life and liberty by allowing the continued exploitation, production and combustion of fossil fuels.

Climate scientist James Hansen and the Global Catholic Climate Movement, which includes Pope Francis are also parties to the lawsuit.

Plaintiffs cheer!

Climate Youth Lawsuit

After winning in Washington State, The Children’s Trust filed against the US federal government. They also have cases in all 50 states. They want the court to order President Obama to immediately implement a national plan that lowers atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide to 350 ppm by 2100.

Kelsey Juliana, one of the plaintiffs, says: "This will be the trial of the century that will determine if we have a right to a livable future, or if corporate power will continue to deny our rights for the sake of their own wealth."

Judge Coffin wrote: … The intractability of the debates before Congress and state legislatures and the alleged valuing of short term economic interest despite the cost to human life, necessitates a need for the courts to evaluate the constitutional parameters of the action or inaction taken by the government. This is especially true when such harms have an alleged disparate impact on a discrete class of society."

In January, three fossil trade associations joined the federal government to fight the case, calling it "extraordinary" and "a direct, substantial threat to [their] businesses." Amazingly, the federal government denies they are responsible under constitution or public trust doctrine to protect essential natural resources, such as air and oceans, for the benefit of all present and future generations.

"Science clearly establishes that our planet’s increasing energy imbalance – caused in substantial part by our government’s support for the exploitation and combustion of fossil fuel – imposes increasingly severe risks on our common future," counters Dr. James Hansen.

"When those in power stand alongside the very industries that threaten the future of my generation instead of standing with the people, it is a reminder that they are not our leaders," says Xiuhtezcatl Tonatiuh Martinez, another plaintiff.

"The real leaders are the 20 youth standing with me in court to demand justice for my generation and justice for all youth. We will not be silent, we will not go unnoticed, and we are ready to stand to protect everything our "leaders" have failed to fight for. They are afraid of the power we have to create change. And this change we are creating, will go down in history," he adds.

When attorneys presented the case on March 9, hundreds of people packed the courtroom in support of the plaintiffs and hundreds more waited on line. In an unprecedented move, the oral argument was streamed by video into three additional courtrooms in Eugene, Oregon and one in Portland.

Last year, Guatemala became the first country to establish a court dedicated to adjudicating crimes against nature,known as ecocide.

Read our article, Momentum Builds for Court Action on Climate Change.

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