A group of youngsters just won a major decision in their efforts to sue the federal government over climate change. An Oregon judge ruled Friday that their lawsuit, which alleges the government violated the constitutional rights of the next generation by allowing the pollution that has caused climate change, can go forward.
Federal District Court Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin ruled against the federal government and fossil fuel companies’ motions to dismiss the case, deciding in favor of 21 young plaintiffs and Dr. James Hansen.
The federal lawsuit is part of a broad effort led by Oregon-based nonprofit Our Children’s Trust. The group and its allies have filed lawsuits and petitions in every state in the country. Filed in August, the complaint alleges that the U.S. government has known for half a century that greenhouse gases from fossil fuels cause global warming and climate change.
“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,” Coffin wrote. He called the lawsuit “unprecedented.”
The suit is based on the idea of the public trust — the same doctrine that guides the Clean Water Act. Under the idea of public trust, governments must protect commonly held elements, such as waterways and the seashore, for public use. Under this lawsuit, the plaintiffs allege that the climate and atmosphere must be likewise protected.
“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,” 19-year-old lead plaintiff Kelsey Juliana said in a statement following the ruling.
Three fossil fuel industry trade associations, who called the case “extraordinary” and “a direct, substantial threat to [their] businesses” were granted defendant status in January.