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Kids Suing Trump Admin. Over Climate Change

by Countable | 12.12.17

What’s the story?

President Donald Trump can add another lawsuit to the mounting legal challenges against him — this one by kids aged 9 to 21.

21 tweens and teens are accusing the Trump administration of endangering their, and future generations’, constitutional rights to a clean atmosphere.

The young plaintiffs headed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on Monday, where a three-judge panel is hearing arguments on whether the case should be allowed to proceed to trial.

Why does it matter?

In Juliana v. The United States of America, filed in Oregon, the children claimed that the government was jeopardizing their future by failing to tackle climate change and by incentivizing corporations to pollute the environment through measures like tax breaks for fossil fuel companies.

The case was initially filed against the Obama administration, for what the plaintiffs said were decades of neglect by the U.S. government against the climate. During Obama’s tenure, the lawsuit seemed unlikely to gain any traction.

But then Trump was sworn into office, and pledged to undo many of the previous administration’s climate policy initiatives.

So, in February 2017, the plaintiffs gave notice they were now suing the Trump administration. The youngsters argued that with the new administration’s openly hostile attitudes to climate policy, the case had taken on an even larger significance.

The Trump administration, and the three fossil fuel lobby groups that had joined the suit as defendants, vigorously fought to get the lawsuit thrown out. They asked the 9th Circuit Court to pre-emptively dismiss the case.

It didn’t work.

While the Justice Department hasn’t commented on Monday’s proceedings, government lawyers are expected to make the same arguments they did in court filings last summer: that the case should be tossed as it would place a "staggering burden" on the Trump administration by making it sift through decades of federal documents and communications with fossil fuel companies.

The Department of Justice also questions the lower Oregon court's ruling that American citizens have an “unenumerated fundamental right” to “a climate system capable of sustaining human life.”

"The court has determined that this amorphous and sweeping right is judicially enforceable, permitting the court to dictate and manage — indefinitely — all federal policy decisions related to fossil fuels, energy production, alternative energy sources, public lands, and air quality standards. To say the least, and by the district court’s own admission, this ruling is 'unprecedented'."

But plaintiff Jacob Lebel, now 20, said his generation will bear the consequences of climate change policy.

"Years from now, Trump and his cabinet—they won’t be the ones dealing with starvation and refugees and resource wars and all that stuff. We’re the ones who are gonna be dealing with that. As young people, we think about that every single day."

What do you think?

Is a courtroom the right place to settle climate change science? Do Americans have an "unenumerated fundamental right” to a clean atmosphere? Hit Take Action and let your reps know—then share your thoughts below.

—Josh Herman

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(Photo courtesy Our Children's Trust)

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