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


Washington petitioners with their attorney Andrea Rodgers before their meeting with Governor Inslee.

Support Washington youth bringing climate action by signing this petition!

Legal Updates

April 29, 2016:

SEATTLE – Today, in a surprise ruling from the bench in the critical climate case brought by youths against the State of Washington's Department of Ecology (“Ecology”), King County Superior Court Judge Hollis Hill ordered Ecology to promulgate an emissions reduction rule by the end of 2016 and make recommendations to the state legislature on science-based greenhouse gas reductions in the 2017 legislative session. Judge Hill also ordered Ecology to consult with the youth petitioners in advance of that recommendation. The youths were forced back to court after Ecology unexpectedly withdrew the very rulemaking efforts to reduce carbon emissions the agency told the judge it had underway. This case is one of several similar state, federal, and international cases, all supported by Our Children’s Trust, seeking the legal right to a healthy atmosphere and stable climate.

Read the full press release.

April 6, 2016:

SEATTLE – Today, the youth petitioners in a precedent-setting case over climate disruption in Washington state asked the court to step in yet again after the state Department of Ecology withdrew its proposed rule to reduce carbon emissions. By withdrawing the proposed rule, Ecology demonstrated it is unable or unwilling to fulfill its legal responsibilities absent a court order directing it to do so in a timely manner.

In the youths’ case, Judge Hollis R. Hill determined the state has a “mandatory duty” to “preserve, protect, and enhance the air quality for the current and future generations.” The court held that Ecology was working toward fulfilling its constitutional and statutory responsibilities because it was developing the Clean Air Rule. With Ecology’s withdrawal of the proposed rule, the agency's continued failure to protect the youths' rights indefinitely is assured and its legal violations ongoing.

Read the full press release.

February 26, 2016:

SEATTLE – On Friday, Feb. 26, the Washington Department of Ecology withdrew its proposed rule to reduce carbon emissions in the state. The rule was supposed to remedy a lawsuit brought by eight youth petitioners against the state of Washington, in which Judge Hollis R. Hill declared "[the youths’] very survival depends upon the will of their elders to act now, decisively and unequivocally, to stem the tide of global warming…before doing so becomes first too costly and then too late."

"This is incredibly devastating to us, because we spent a lot of time and energy working on our lawsuit, and it feels like no one cares at all about our futures," said Wren Wagenbach, a youth petitioner in the case. "We are so shocked that Ecology made the decision to withdraw the rule that Governor Inslee directed them to do! We can't understand this at all,” said youth petitioners Lara and Athena Fain.

November 19, 2015:

Seattle, Washington – Late last night, King County Superior Court Judge Hollis R. Hill issued a groundbreaking ruling in the unprecedented case of eight youth petitioners who requested that the Washington Department of Ecology write a carbon emissions rule that protects the atmosphere for their generation and those to come.

In a landmark decision, Judge Hill declared “[the youths’] very survival depends upon the will of their elders to act now, decisively and unequivocally, to stem the tide of global warming…before doing so becomes first too costly and then too late.” Highlighting inextricable relationships between navigable waters and the atmosphere, and finding that separating the two is “nonsensical,” the judge found the public trust doctrine mandates that the state act through its designated agency “to protect what it holds in trust.” The court confirmed what the Washington youth and youth across the nation have been arguing in courts of law, that “[t]he state has a constitutional obligation to protect the public’s interest in natural resources held in trust for the common benefit of the people.”

“It’s incredible to have the court finally say that we do have a right to a healthy atmosphere and that our government can’t allow it to be harmed,” said 13-year-old petitioner Gabriel Mandell. “This ruling means that what the Department of Ecology does going forward in its rulemaking has to protect us, the kids of Washington, and not just us, but future generations too, like my children and those to come. Now they can’t decide to protect short-term economic fears and ignore us because we have constitutional and public trust rights to a stable climate!”

The court validated the youths’ claims that the “scientific evidence is clear that the current rates of reduction mandated by Washington law. . . cannot ensure the survival of an environment in which [youth] can grow to adulthood safely.” The judge determined that the State has a “mandatory duty” to “preserve, protect, and enhance the air quality for the current and future generations,” and found the state’s current standards to fail that standard dramatically for several reasons.

Read Judge Hill's decision.
Read the full press release.

November 3, 2015:

Seattle, Washington -- Today, young Washington citizens sat in a packed King County courtroom and watched as their attorney, Andrea Rodgers gave a stunning and impassioned argument to the court as she fought for her clients’ right to a healthy environment and safe climate. Judge Hollis Hill heard oral argument in the important case brought by seven young petitioners to address Washington Department of Ecology’s (Ecology) persistent refusal to set science-based carbon pollution limits.

This is the second time this year the petitioners have found themselves in a King County courtroom. In May, Judge Hill heard oral argument in the case and, based on the undisputed climate science, ordered Ecology to reconsider its first denial of the youths’ petition. Doubling down on obsolete science, Ecology denied the youths' petition a second time.

Today, the young petitioners sat stunned as counsel for Ecology told the court “I do not know if there is an inherit right for a healthful environment” and proceeded to tell the court that it was up for the legislature to decide. Ecology was steadfast in their position that they are not required to regulate carbon dioxide emissions based on the current science.

Read the full press release.
Read the CBS News story.
Read the Seattle Weekly story.

August 25, 2015:

Seattle, Washington – Today, young Washington citizens filed a response with the King County Superior Court, to the Washington Department of Ecology’s persistent refusal to grant their petition for rulemaking, filed more than one year ago, requesting that Ecology set carbon emissions targets based on current climate science. Despite the King County Superior Court’s June 23rd order mandating the state to reconsider its first denial of the youths' petition in light of the science presented by the youths the Washington Department of Ecology denied the youths' petition for a second time.

“By denying these young people’s petition for science-based rulemaking for a second time, Ecology continues to kick the climate can down the road and commits only to carbon dioxide emissions targets that it acknowledges are inadequate to put the state of Washington on a path toward climate stability,” said Andrea Rodgers, the attorney with Western Environmental Law Center representing the youths.

The youths argue to the court that more delay in resolving their legal claims will lock in the infringement of their fundamental rights. They make the valid point that the climate system and their future cannot afford more politics as usual. Given the irreversible consequences of further government action not grounded in the current climate science, these young people ask the court to impose a remedy that will require science-based climate action within a time frame that matters for their future.

July 8, 2015:

Seattle, Washington – Eight youth petitioners will meet with the head of the Washington Department of Ecology (“Ecology”) to discuss potential settlement options in their climate change case. On June 23, 2015, in a landmark decision, King County Superior Court Judge Hollis Hill ordered Ecology to reconsider their climate change petition asking for carbon dioxide reductions based upon best available science. The court ordered Ecology to report back by today, July 8, 2015, as to whether they would promulgate the proposed rule. However, the youth petitioners have agreed to a 30-day extension so that the parties can engage in settlement negotiations.

Ecology has committed to have Director Maia Bellon and the agency’s director of air quality meet in person with the eight petitioners and their attorney this month to discuss a potential settlement. The petitioners have invited Gov. Inslee to attend the meeting, and await a formal response from his office.

Read the full press release here.

June 23, 2015:

Today, in a no-nonsense decision that calls out bureaucratic delay in the face of urgent and dire climate consequences, a judge in our Washington case just sided with the 8 youth plaintiffs, and ordered the state to reconsider its denial of the youth’s petition for emission reductions in accordance with current science. The judge ordered the state to consider the youth’s scientific evidence, and to notify the judge of its intentions in just two short weeks. Please read the 4-page decision and press release.

Importantly, by ordering the state to consider the youth’s scientific evidence, put forth by Dr. Pushker Kharecha, climate scientist with James Hansen at Columbia University Earth Institute, the court has ordered the state to respond to the need to bring carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere to below 350 ppm by 2100. Doing so, this court gives Washington the opportunity to be the first state to regulate its emissions in a way scientifically calculated to truly stabilize our climate.

The State must notify the court whether it will amend or affirm it’s initial denial of the youth’s petition in face of the court’s order, and the youth’s scientific evidence.

Congratulations to the strong youth of Washington and our outstanding Western Environmental Law Center attorney leading the Washington case, Andrea Rodgers.

May 15, 2015:

Today, Andrea Rodgers of the Western Environmental Law Center, gave an all-star performance in court today on behalf of her 8 youth clients, all of whom were in attendance sitting with her at counsel’s table. The youth plaintiffs left the courtroom energized and excited about their case. The court was engaged and said she would let the parties know if she needed any further argument on the matter and would carefully review the record in the case. Today, our youth partners saw our constitutional democracy in action and it was awesome!

March 16, 2015:

Today, eight young citizens of Washington state filed their opening brief in their climate change case, Zoe & Stella Foster v. Washington Department of Ecology, to King County Superior Court. The young petitioners are appealing the Washington Department of Ecology’s denial of their request that the Department of Ecology (“Ecology”) promulgate a rule that would limit carbon dioxide emissions in Washington according to what scientists say is needed to protect our oceans and our climate system.

“Under the law, the people of this state, including the kids who have brought this case, have a fundamental right to a healthy environment,” said Andrea Rodgers of the Western Environmental Law Center, attorney for the youth petitioners. “Faced with the increasing harms posed by climate destabilization and ocean acidification, the young people brought this lawsuit to vindicate this right on behalf themselves and future generations.” 

Read the full press release here.

September 15, 2014:

Today, eight young citizens of Washington State filed a case in King County Superior Court challenging the Washington Department of Ecology’s denial of their request that the Department of Ecology (“Ecology”) promulgate a rule that would limit carbon dioxide emissions in Washington according to what scientists say is needed to protect oceans and our climate system.

Read the youth petitioners' petition for judicial review here.

Check out the press release here.

August 19, 2014:

Washington youth asked the Department of Ecology to implement a rule that would ensure carbon dioxide emissions are reduced at levels scientists say are needed to protect the oceans from acidification and the climate system from further disruption. In response, the Director of Ecology wrote: "I appreciate the concern and desire of the youth petitioners to reduce GHG emissions for improving the environment for themselves and future generations. However, Ecology denies your petition for rulemaking in favor of its current approach to reducing GHG emissions."

Unfortunately, that "current approach" does not ensure that annual CO2 emission reductions are on track with the scientific prescription for climate recovery. The math needs to add up. Andrea Rodgers, the youth's attorney, will review the decision and work with the young people on next steps to ensuring Washington is meeting its constitutional public trust obligations to Washington's children and future generations.

Read the Department of Ecology's decision here

June 17, 2014:

Youth petitioners filed a petition for rulemaking to the Washington State Department of Ecology requesting that the Department make recommendations to the legislature to update the State’s current emission limits and to implement these limits, in order to put Washington on the global climate stabilization trajectory. The petitioners urged the Department to acknowledge and apply the best available climate science, which requires that we return global atmospheric CO2 concentrations to 350 ppm in order to stabilize the climate for present and future generations. The Department’s obligations are both statutory, reiterated in a recent Executive Order, and constitutional, under the Public Trust Doctrine.

Check out the press release here.

December 16, 2013:

The Washington Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's dismissal of the case but left open a door for future challenges under the State Constitution.

November 18, 2013:

The Washington Court of Appeals considered the case without oral argument, after the Washington Supreme Court transferred the case to the Court of Appeals for an initial ruling. We are currently awaiting that decision.

November 26, 2012:

Seven young petitioners and their guardians filed their final brief before the Washington Supreme Court asking it to reverse a lower court's dismissal of their case to protect public trust resources of the state. Read the press release here.

September 28, 2012:

Attorneys for the defendants filed the State's opposition brief, denying the government's public trust responsibility to protect the atmosphere and take action to address the climate crisis.

August 8, 2012:

Attorney Greg Costello with the Western Environmental Law Center submitted an amicus brief on behalf of top law professors from around the country supporting youth plaintiffs' petition for direct review and their atmospheric trust claim.

July 30, 2012:

Youth petitioners filed their opening brief of their appeal to the Washington Supreme Court.

Check out the press release here and the Environment News Service article on the appeal here.

June 2012:

Several faith-based groups submitted a brief as amici curiae supporting youth plaintiffs' petition for direct review. In the brief the groups argue that the inequities of climate change threaten human rights and that international human rights law is applicable in the youth plaintiffs' atmospheric trust case.

April 13, 2012:

Plaintiffs filed the Statement of Grounds in their petition for direct review by the Washington Supreme Court. The Statement was accompanied by an expert declaration from Dr. James Hansen supporting the petition expressing the urgent need for immediate action:

Unless arrested by effective and immediate action, climate change will produce calamitous consequences for humanity and nature alike, as tipping points are reached and points of no return are crossed. . . . the failure to commence CO2 reductions without further delay . . . would consign our children and their progeny to a very different planet, one far less conducive to their survival.

The state moved to strike Dr. Hansen's declaration, but the Washington Supreme Court denied their motion.

March 2012:

Plaintiffs filed a petition for direct review of the trial court's decision to the Washington Supreme Court.

February 2012:

Hearing on the State’s motion to dismiss. The trial court granted the government’s motion to dismiss in without issuing an opinion in support of the decision.

July 2011:

The State of Washington filed an answer, which included the following admissions:

Human activities, including the emissions of GHG, very likely caused most of the observed global warming over the last 50 years, accelerated warming, if continued, is projected to affect many of Earth’s human and natural systems.

Scientific projections indicate that people around the world will be increasingly affected by changes in climate.

Scientific projections indicate that increasing GHG concentrations in the atmosphere are projected to change the climate which would impact human beings’ natural environment and that identifying the optimal timeline to reduce emissions and address impacts is important to minimizing the impacts.

OCT's partner Attorneys in Washington, Andrea Rodgers-Harris and Richard Smith, are considering the full list of state admissions and preparing the next phase of action.

May 4, 2011:

Complaint was filed against the Governor's Office in the State of Washington, the Department of Ecology, the Commissioner of Public Lands and the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife.

Climate Change Impacts in Washington

The following points are taken from the filed complaint.

As Defendant Gregoire has proclaimed, “the effects of climate change are already being felt in the state of Washington in the form of average yearly temperatures rising faster over the 20th Century than the global average, mountain glaciers in the North Cascades losing up to a third of their area since 1950, snow pack in the Cascades declining by 35%, peak spring river runoff occurring ten to thirty days earlier and the proportion of stream flow that arrives in summer decreasing as much as 34% in sensitive river basins.” Defendant Gregoire has declared that “Washington is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, and without additional action to reduce carbon emissions, the severity of the impacts will negatively affect nearly every part of Washington’s economy and environment.” The Washington Department of Ecology (“Ecology”) has warned that “the science is clear that we must move forward quickly to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in order to mitigate its effects. Without action, climate change will negatively affect nearly every part of Washington’s economy through changes in temperature, sea level, and water availability.”

To date, in spite of this recognition of the severity of the climate crisis, as recent as December 2010, defendant Ecology concluded that “total GHG emissions in Washington for 2008 were 101.1 million metric tons carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e), 9 percent more than 1990 emissions. Ecology projects that the policies the state has already implemented to reduce GHG emissions will result in relatively constant emissions between now and 2020.” Allowing the state to proceed under this “business as usual” scenario of constant, or minimally reduced, GHG emissions is causing the destruction of the state’s critical natural resources in violation of its public trust obligation.

Washington is particularly vulnerable to climate change and thus the state must take bold action to protect the state’s public trust resources on behalf of its citizens. The Governor has acknowledged, “effective and immediate action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – preferably at the federal level but at the regional or state level as necessary – is essential to the future well being of all Washingtonians.” The Public Trust Doctrine requires the State to take immediate and swift action to protect the critical natural resources of this State.

The predicted environmental and human impacts of climate change in Washington are severe and well documented. The University of Washington Climate Impacts Group estimates that temperatures in the Pacific Northwest will increase by 3.2ºF by 2040. Consequences of increased temperatures include decreased snow pack, decreased water availability for agriculture, and reduced freshwater salmon habitat due to increased stream temperatures. Hotter temperatures coupled with decreased precipitation will increase wildfire danger, threatening the state’s forests, delicate ecosystems, and rural populations. Shifting rainfall patterns and temperatures may adversely affect forest productivity, water availability, and food availability for migratory birds. Warmer winters are already altering bird migration and scientists warn that climate change may lead to the extinction of many bird species.

Rising temperatures have the potential to cause a public health crisis. The Climate Impacts Group predicts that higher summer temperatures will increase the number of heat-related deaths in Washington, especially among those over age 65. Under a moderate warming scenario, the greater Seattle area will experience 101 excess heat-related deaths in 2025 and 156 excess heat-related deaths annually by 2045. Reduced air quality due to climate change will cause an estimated 132 additional deaths annually by 2050.

The environmental and public health impacts of climate change cannot be separated from the impacts on Washington’s economy. A 2006 report by Ecology, Impacts of Climate Change on Washington’s Economy: A Preliminary Assessment of Risks and Opportunities, indicates that climate change will likely cause increased water prices, decreased dairy revenue, and increased State expenditures to fight wildfires. Additionally, the report projects that decreased snowpack will decrease Seattle’s available water supply by millions of gallons per day unless the City spends millions of dollars on conservation projects. Either option will significantly impact Seattle and its residents. Rising sea levels due to melting glaciers and related effects on local substrates will likely adversely affect low-lying agricultural areas such as the Skagit River Delta and communities such as Tacoma and Olympia that sit just above sea level. For example, Tacoma could experience a rise in sea level of two feet within fifty years. These rising waters will impact commerce flowing through the port as well as recreational activities. While climate change may bring some new economic opportunities to the area, current projections indicate that the negative environmental, health and economic impacts will outweigh the positive. As the Legislature recognized, “emissions must be reduced significantly below current levels to avert catastrophic climate change.”