Federal Climate Change Lawsuit
21 young people from across the United States have filed a landmark constitutional climate change lawsuit against the federal government in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon. Also acting as a Plaintiff is world-renowned climate scientist Dr. James E. Hansen, serving as guardian for future generations and his granddaughter. The Complaint asserts that, in causing climate change, the federal government has violated the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, property, as well as failed to protect essential public trust resources.
The Complaint alleges the Federal Government is violating the youth’s constitutional rights by promoting the development and use of fossil fuels. These young Plaintiffs and Dr. Hansen are challenging the federal government’s national fossil fuel programs. They seek to hold President Obama and various federal agencies responsible for continued fossil fuel exploitation. The Federal Government has known for decades that fossil fuels are destroying the climate system. No less important than in the Civil Rights cases, Plaintiffs seek a court order requiring the President to immediately implement a national plan to decrease atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (“CO2”) to a safe level: 350 ppm by the year 2100.
April 8, 2016
Judge Coffin denies Motions to Dismiss
FEDERAL COURT AFFIRMS CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS OF KIDS AND DENIES MOTIONS OF GOVERNMENT AND FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY IN YOUTH’S LANDMARK CLIMATE CHANGE CASE
U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin of the federal District Court in Eugene, OR, decided in favor of 21 young Plaintiffs, and Dr. James Hansen on behalf of future generations, in their landmark constitutional climate change case brought against the federal government and the fossil fuel industry. The Court’s ruling is a major victory for the 21 youth Plaintiffs, ages 8-19, from across the U.S. in what Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein call the “most important lawsuit on the planet right now.” These plaintiffs sued the federal government for violating their constitutional rights to life, liberty and property, and their right to essential public trust resources, by permitting, encouraging, and otherwise enabling continued exploitation, production, and combustion of fossil fuels.
Plaintiffs’ attorney Philip Gregory with Cotchett, Pitre, & McCarthy of Burlingame, CA, said: “This decision is one of the most significant in our nation’s history. The Court upheld our claims that the federal government intensified the danger to our plaintiffs’ lives, liberty and property. Judge Coffin decided our Complaint will move forward and put climate science squarely in front of the federal courts. The next step is for the Court to order our government to cease jeopardizing the climate system for present and future generations. The Court gave America’s youth a fair opportunity to be heard.”
As part of Friday’s historic decision, Judge Coffin characterized the case as an “unprecedented lawsuit” addressing “government action and inaction” resulting “in carbon pollution of the atmosphere, climate destabilization, and ocean acidification.” In deciding the case will proceed, Judge Coffin wrote: “The debate about climate change and its impact has been before various political bodies for some time now. Plaintiffs give this debate justiciability by asserting harms that befall or will befall them personally and to a greater extent than older segments of society. It may be that eventually the alleged harms, assuming the correctness of plaintiffs' analysis of the impacts of global climate change, will befall all of us. But 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.”
Excerpts from the Court's April 8th order denying the federal government and the fossil fuel industry's motions to dismiss the case:
“[T]he 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.” p.8
"If the allegations in the complaint are to be believed, the failure to regulate the emissions has resulted in a danger of constitutional proportions to the public health. Presumably, sweeping regulations by this agency (the EPA) alone could result in curtailing of major CO2 producing activities by not just the defendant agencies, but by the purported independent third parties as well.” p.10
"Thus, regulation by this country, in combination with regulation already being undertaken by other countries, may very well have sufficient impact to redress the alleged harms.” p.11-12.
"The complaint does raise issues of whether government action/inaction violates the Constitution and these are issues committed to the courts rather than either of the political branches. . . . While the efficacy of any proposed regulations is perhaps beyond the expertise of the court, it can evaluate the competing experts on either side of the issues and direct the EPA to take a hard look at the best available scientific evidence. The court need not dictate any regulations, only direct the EPA to adopt standards that prevent the alleged constitutional harm to the youth and future generation plaintiffs, should plaintiffs prevail in demonstrating such is possible.” p.14
"Plaintiffs assert that the defendants' action/inaction with respect to their obligations regarding regulating environmental pollutants has violated their substantive due process rights and has done so in favor of older generations. The Fifth Amendment provides in part that 'no person shall . . . be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.' U.S. Const. amend. V. . . . the complaint does allege discrimination against a class of younger individuals with respect to a fundamental right protected by substantive due process." p.15
"In this case, the government has allegedly taken action through subsidies, regulations, etc. that creates massive CO2 emissions, and has failed to limit such emissions despite a duty to do so. Plaintiffs further allege they are prevented any means of escape from the resulting climate that threatens their property, health, and even existence.” p.16
"[T]he court should decline to dismiss the complaint for failure to allege a substantive due process claim. . . . discovery may produce evidence regarding when defendants and intervenors were aware of the harmful effects of CO2 emissions and whether the public was purposely misled about those effects, which evidence would be relevant to the "shocks the conscience" standard." p.17
"The public trust doctrine invoked instead is directed against the United States and its unique sovereign interests over the territorial ocean waters and atmosphere of the nation. The doctrine is deeply rooted in our nation's history and indeed predates it.” p.20
"At the hearing on defendants and intervenors' motions to dismiss, the court queried their counsel whether, hypothetically, Congress could alienate the territorial waters of the United States off the West Coast to a private corporation, or whether that would implicate a public trust issue under the Constitution. Both parties suggested Congress could cede the territorial waters to a private corporation, and that PPL Montana, LLC, forecloses any argument that the public trust doctrine applies to the federal government. As explained above, I cannot read PPL Montana, LLC, given the context of the argument being addressed by the Court; to have such a sweeping and profound effect. Nor can I imagine that our coastal sea waters could possibly be privatized without implicating principles that reflect core values of our Constitution and the very essence of the purpose of our nation's government.” p.23
"When combined with the EPA's duty to protect the public health from airborne pollutants and the government's public trust duties deeply ingrained in this country's history, the allegations in the complaint state, for purposes of a motion to dismiss, a substantive due process claim." p.23
March 9, 2016
HEARING IN YOUTH’S LANDMARK FEDERAL CLIMATE LAWSUIT GENERATES IMMENSE PUBLIC INTEREST
Hundreds Pack Oregon Courthouse to Support Youth
Hundreds of students, activists, professors, and citizens concerned about climate turned out for a historic hearing in Eugene, Oregon to support 21 young plaintiffs, ages 8-19, in what Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein call the “most important lawsuit on the planet right now.” The plaintiffs’ sued the federal government for violating their fundamental constitutional rights to life, liberty and property by taking actions that permit, encourage, and otherwise enable continued exploitation, production, and combustion of fossil fuels.
The purpose of Wednesday’s hearing was to hear arguments from the parties on the federal government’s and fossil fuel industry's motions to dismiss the youth’s climate change lawsuit. The judge conducted incisive questioning of lawyers presenting oral argument for both sides on the issue. The hearing lasted for two hours. It’s unclear when he will reach a decision on the defendants’ motions, but the youth plaintiffs are optimistic the Judge will treat their case fairly.
“Defendants are wrong that our complaint fails to allege constitutional and public trust violations for the harms caused these young plaintiffs,” said Julia Olson, lead counsel for the plaintiffs and Executive Director of Our Children’s Trust, in her closing argument. “Defendants in essence ask this court to ignore the undisputed scientific evidence, presented in our complaint and in opposing this motion, that the federal government has, and continues to, damage plaintiffs’ personal security and other fundamental rights. But these young plaintiffs have the right to prove the government’s role in harming them has been knowing and deliberate.”
See “U.S. Government’s Long-Standing Knowledge of Climate Danger,” one of the exhibits presented by Olson during the hearing.
February 2, 2016
Youth plaintiffs filed their opposition brief to the fossil fuel intervenors' motion to dismiss their case.
January 15, 2016
Prominent Catholic Groups File Amicus Brief In Support of Youth’s Landmark Constitutional Climate Lawsuit
Eugene, OR – Today, the Center for Earth Jurisprudence, on behalf of the Global Catholic Climate Movement (GCCM) and the Leadership Council of Women Religious (LCWR) filed an amicus curiae brief in support of the constitutional climate change lawsuit brought by 21 young plaintiffs from across America. The Catholic groups filed their brief promptly after Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin of the federal District Court in Oregon granted defendant status to three trade associations, representing nearly all of the world’s fossil fuel companies. The Catholic groups filed the brief to make their views known that the youth’s legal claims are rooted in U.S. traditions and parallel Roman Catholic tenets.
The GCCM is an international network of more than 250 Catholic organizations and individuals, including Pope Francis and Catholic bishops. The Catholic group is raising a strong voice in global climate change discussions, relying on the Pope’s recent encyclical, Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home. The LCWR represents leaders of more than 40,000 women religious across the United States and the world.
“As an organization inspired by the principles of Laudato Si’, the Global Catholic Climate Movement welcomes the opportunity to support the young plaintiffs,” said Tomas Insua, Global Coordinator with the GCCM. “Laudato Si’ reminds us that ‘Intergenerational solidarity is not optional, but rather a basic question of justice, since the world we have received also belongs to those who will follow us.’ By supporting this initiative, we join our voices with the young plaintiffs who are calling for climate justice and the protection of the atmosphere for generations to come.”
January 14, 2016
Fossil Fuel Industry Becomes Named Defendant in Youths’ Constitutional Climate Lawsuit
Eugene, OR – Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin of the federal District Court in Oregon granted defendant status to three trade associations, representing nearly all of the world’s largest fossil fuel companies. The three associations had moved to intervene in the constitutional climate change lawsuit brought by 21 young people from around the country. The newly named trade association defendants are the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (“AFPM”) (representing Exxon Mobil, BP, Shell, Koch Industries, and virtually all other U.S. refiners and petrochemical manufacturers), the American Petroleum Institute (“API”) (representing 625 oil and natural gas companies), and the National Association of Manufacturers (“NAM”).
January 6, 2016
Youth Plaintiffs and Dr. Hansen on behalf of Future Generations, filed a strong response in opposition to the Federal Government’s motion to dismiss the case. In their brief, they argue that the plaintiffs have standing to bring their case (they are being harmed by the Defendants’ acts and the court can redress it) and that they have brought valid claims under the U.S. Constitution and the federal Public Trust Doctrine. In a declaration submitted by John Davidson, and Oregon-based constitutional law scholar, the historical and traditional bases for Plaintiffs' claims are explained. Plaintiffs are also supported by the expert testimony of Dr. Michael MacCracken, who the Supreme Court relied upon in Massachusetts v. EPA, and of course, by plaintiff Dr. Jim Hansen. Dr. Hansen’s testimony directly links sea level rise projections to the homes and properties of the Plaintiffs, some of whom would find their family’s property underwater, if the Federal Defendants continue on their course and the climate system is not stabilized. The hearing date is currently set for February 17, 2:00 p.m. in the federal courthouse in Eugene, Oregon.
November 12, 2015
World’s Largest Petroleum Companies Call Youth’s Landmark Climate Lawsuit “a Direct Threat to [Their] Businesses”
Motion to Intervene Aligns Fossil Fuel Industry with President Obama and the U.S. Government Ahead of Paris Climate Talks
Youth's landmark climate lawsuit against the Federal Government just got the attention of the powerful Fossil Fuel Industry. Today, nearly every oil and gas company in the world asked for permission to oppose the landmark climate lawsuit brought against President Obama and the federal government by America’s youth and Dr. James E. Hansen -- as guardian for future generations. In an unusual step, the immense fossil fuel industry trade groups all filed pleadings in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon seeking to join the lawsuit side by side with President Obama to protect their companies’ interests.
The proposed interveners constitute a veritable who’s who of major corporate polluters, including the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (representing members Exxon Mobil, BP, Shell, Koch Industries, and virtually all other U.S. refiners and petrochemical manufacturers), the American Petroleum Institute (representing 625 oil and natural gas companies), and the National Association of Manufacturers.
“Big Oil is starting to lose control of our political system.” declared Alex Loznak, a youth plaintiff in the case from Oregon. “Last week, President Obama rejected the Keystone XL Pipeline, and New York State began to investigate Exxon's cover-up of climate science. The intervention of fossil fuel companies in our lawsuit against the Federal Government makes it clear that the industry is scared. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, "first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." The fight has begun, and we will win.”
“Seeing giant fossil fuel corporations inject themselves into this case, which is about our future, really demonstrates the problem we are trying to fix,” stated Xiuhtezcatl Tonatiuh Martinez of Earth Guardians, a youth plaintiff in the case from Colorado. “The Federal government has been making decisions in the best interest of multinational corporations and their profits, but not in the best interest of my generation and those to come. Instead of changing their business model to meet the scientific reality of climate change, these companies are demanding we adapt to an uninhabitable world that supports their profits. When you compare the two, I think it’s clear that our right to clean air and a healthy atmosphere, is more important than their “need” to make money off destroying our future.”
August 12, 2015, International Youth Day
America’s Youth File Landmark Climate Lawsuit Against U.S. Government and President
In describing the case, one of the teenage Plaintiffs and Youth Director of Earth Guardians, Xiuhtezcatl Tonatiuh Martinez, stated: “The Federal Government has known for decades that CO2 pollution from burning fossil fuels was causing global warming and dangerous climate change. It also knew that continuing to burn fossil fuels would destabilize our climate system, significantly harming my generation and generations to come. Despite knowing these dangers, Defendants did nothing to prevent this harm. In fact, my Government increased the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere to levels it knew were unsafe.”
Another Plaintiff, 18-year-old Kelsey Juliana, said: “Our nation's top climate scientists, including Dr. Hansen, have found that the present CO2 level is already in the danger zone and leading to devastating disruptions of planetary systems. The current practices and policies of our Federal Government include sustained exploitation and consumption of fossil fuels. We brought this case because the Government needs to immediately and aggressively reduce carbon emissions, and stop promoting fossil fuels, which force our nation's climate system toward irreversible impacts. If the Government continues to delay urgent annual emissions reductions, my generation's wellbeing will be inexcusably put at risk.”
Read Dr. James Hansen's and other leading scientists' articles that were attached to Dr. Hansen's expert declaration:
- Assessing ‘‘Dangerous Climate Change’’: Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature (2013).
- Ice melt, sea level rise and superstorms: evidence from paleoclimate data, climate modeling, and modern observations that 2 ◦C global warming is highly dangerous (2015).