Securing the legal right to a healthy atmosphere and stable climate
for all present and future generations


Legal Updates

July 23, 2014:

The Texas Court of Appeals held that the Texas Legislature has not given Texas courts the ability to hear cases involving the denial of rulemaking petitions. However, the district court's legal holding that the public trust doctrine includes all natural resources including the atmosphere was not addressed by the Court of Appeals in their opinion.

September 25, 2013:

Oral argument was heard before the Third Court of Appeals in Austin. The Appeals Court will decide whether the youth plaintiffs had the right to take their case to court in the first place and whether the court, not TCEQ, is the proper government body to interpret the law and the legal obligations and authorities of TCEQ.

Read press release here.

May 9, 2013:

Texas political leaders and conservation and social justice organizations filed an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief in support of the youth plaintiffs and to ask the Texas Court of Appeals to uphold the legislature’s express intent to give Texans the right of judicial review over decisions by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). Amici include former TCEQ Commissioner Larry Soward and Texas State Representative Lon Burnam and are represented by Lowerre, Frederick, Perales, Allmon & Rockwell, a law firm dedicated to the practice of environmental law in Texas.

The brief cites to an emergency disaster proclamation issued by Governor Rick Perry on March 22, 2013, in which he states, “exceptional drought conditions pose a threat of imminent disaster for [183] counties in the State of Texas.” The proclamation also states that, “record high temperatures, preceded by significantly low rainfall, have resulted in declining reservoir and aquifer levels, threatening water supplies and delivery systems in many parts of the state,” that “prolonged dry conditions continue to increase the threat of wildfire across many portions of the state,” and “these drought conditions have reached historic levels and continue to pose an imminent threat to public heath, property and the economy.” Read press release here.

April 22, 2013:

On Earth Day, three youth plaintiffs filed a brief in response to the Texas Commission on
Environmental Quality’s (TCEQ) argument
that the district court did not have jurisdiction to hear the their claims in a climate change lawsuit filed in 2011. Attorney Adam Abrams, with the Texas Environmental Law Center, filed the lawsuit, on behalf of the young plaintiffs, against the TCEQ in state court, seeking judicial review of the TCEQ’s denial of the plaintiffs’ petition for rulemaking to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. TCEQ is attempting to overturn Judge Triana’s decision holding that the atmosphere is a public trust resource under the State Constitution. The Appeals Court will decide in this case whether these youth plaintiffs had the right to take their case to court and whether the court, not TCEQ, is the proper government body to interpret the law. Read press release here.

July 2012:

Judge Gisela D. Triana in Travis County District Court issued a historic decision finding that all natural resources are protected under the Public Trust Doctrine and the state constitution of Texas. The final judgment of the court was issued August 2, 2012. Check out the press release.

June 14, 2012:

Texas plaintiffs' attorney Adam Abrams argued in Travis County District Court today that Texas has a public trust duty to protect the atmosphere for present and future generations and that the denial of Plaintiffs' petition for rule making should be reversed.

May 2012:

Petitioners have completed briefing on judicial review of the agency denial of a rulemaking petition.

July 21, 2011:

Adam Abrams, Attorney with the Texas Environmental Law Center, filed a lawsuit against the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in state court, seeking judicial review of TCEQ denial of the petition for rule-making. Read the press release.

June 24, 2011:

On June 24th, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality denied the petition for rule making submitted by Our Children’s Trust.

May 4, 2011:

Petition for rulemaking was filed with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality on behalf of Texas youth.

Latest News

July 2011:

Images from Texas Drought

June 27, 2011:

USDA Designates 213 Counties in Texas as Primary Natural Disaster Areas: article

April 29, 2011:

Interview with Larry Soward, former TCEQ Commissioner (excerpt): "Because I see the climate change issues as not for you and me. They’re for our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren, and I just don’t see us really thinking in that regard. We’re thinking about what’s it going to cost Exxon-Mobil today to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions, or what’s it going to cost to keep from building down to the seashore because the sea-level changes. We’re looking at today and I think we need to be looking at 50 to 100 years from now and doing what we can today to help mitigate what very likely will happen then if we don’t do something."

Climate Change Impacts in Texas

The following points are taken from the petition filed before the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

The Galveston area could be greatly harmed by sea level rise over the next 100 years due to climate change. A sea level rise of 1.5 meters could displace approximately 100,000 households and create more than $12 billion in infrastructure losses. In addition, a sea level rise of 1.5m could impact 16 waste water treatment plants, 3 superfund sites, 5 industrial and hazardous waste sites, and 9 municipal solid waste sites. A sea level rise of .69m could impact approximately 79,000 homes and 60 buildings. Additionally, a .69m sea level rise could still impact a good portion of the waste water treatment plants, superfund sites, industrial hazardous waste sites and municipal solid waste sites that were mentioned above.

Climate change will significantly reduce Texas' water supply. Longer periods of drought will decrease runoff and recharge to our water sources, resulting in a decrease in available water for our business, municipal and agricultural needs. Less water will mean an increase in groundwater costs. The United States Department of the Interior has indicated that annual flows in three prominent river basins--the Colorado, the Rio Grande and San Joaquin-- could decline as much as 8-14% over the next 4 decades as a result of climate change. These three rivers provide water to eight states, including Texas.

The proliferation of wildfires, like those seen in Texas in April of 2011, is likely to occur. The climate change adviser to the United States Forest Service indicated that "the fires aren't due to climate change, but the changing climate, I think, has been a contributing factor. I can't imagine that climate change hasn't had a deletrious impact."

The state's billion-dollar agriculture industry will be harmed by climate change. The Environmental Protection Agency projected that global warming could reduce wheat yeilds in Texas by 43-68%.

Climate change will likely threaten and endanger species in Texas. For example, those species living in the Great Plains range, which inclides a good portion of Texas, will be faced with the following:

Climate-driven changes are likely to combine with other human-induced stresses to further increase the vulnerability of natural ecosystems to pests, invasive species and loss of native species. Changes in temperature and precipitation affect the composition and diversity of native animals and plants through altering their breeding patterns, water and food supply, and habitat availability. In a changing climate, populations of some pests such as red fire ants and rodents, better adapted to a warmer climate, are projected to increase.

For more infomation on climate change in Texas, visit the Texas Climate Change Initiative.