Climate suit claims fossil fuel development poses ‘existential threat’ to Utah’s youth

"Utah's fossil fuel development policy poses an existential threat to Utah's children, sacrificing their health, safety, and lives for the short-term profits of the fossil fuel industry."

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SOURCECommon Dreams

Seven young people on Tuesday launched a new climate case against the Utah government, arguing that fossil fuel development violates their state constitutional rights.

The lawsuit—which names Utah as well as various officials, including Republican Gov. Spencer Cox, as defendants—was filed in state court.

“The past and continuing development of Utah’s fossil fuels presents an existential threat to Utah’s youth. Because of the development and combustion of fossil fuels, Utah has the worst average air quality in the nation and is already experiencing profoundly dangerous climate changes, including increasing temperatures and deadly heatwaves, increasingly frequent and severe wildfires and wildfire smoke, exceptional drought, exacerbation of medical conditions and health risks, and other harms,” the complaint says.

“Dangerous air quality and climate change in Utah are harming the health and safety of Utah’s youth, interfering with their healthy development, and taking years off of their lives,” the complaint continues. “Yet, despite the dangers of Utah’s critical air quality and climate emergencies to its youth, Utah’s government continues to throw fuel on the fire, maximizing, promoting, and systematically authorizing fossil fuel development in the state as a matter of official state policy, codified in statute.”

The plaintiffs in Natalie R. v. State of Utah range in age from nine to 18. One of them, Dallin R., said in a statement that “maintaining a livable planet is a fundamental necessity in guaranteeing the right to life which is promised in our constitution, but the climate crisis is putting that right in danger.”

“I have personally experienced dangerously poor air quality, high temperatures, drought, and the fear of living in an unrecognizable world ravaged by climate change,” the plaintiff explained.

“That’s why I am proud to be working with Our Children’s Trust to step up to the plate and challenge those who are responsible,” Dallin added. “The role of Utah’s state government in the causation and perpetuation of this crisis is unacceptable, and young Utahns like me and my fellow youth plaintiffs will hold them accountable for their reckless endangerment of our state and our planet.”

The youth are represented by attorneys at Our Children’s Trust—an Oregon-based firm known for other similar cases, including Juliana v. United States and a suit filed last month in Virginia—and Deiss Law PC in Salt Lake City.

Andrew Deiss, who serves as local counsel for the plaintiffs, said that “my colleagues and I are honored to represent these youth who are working through the courts to vindicate rights which will benefit Utah’s children now, and for generations to come.”

Echoing the complaint, lead counsel Andrew Welle of Our Children’s Trust declared that “Utah’s fossil fuel development policy poses an existential threat to Utah’s children, sacrificing their health, safety, and lives for the short-term profits of the fossil fuel industry.”

“The state’s policy has placed these youth in an emergency and every day it remains on the books brings them into further danger,” he warned. “Only Utah’s courts can provide the relief these youth urgently need. Only the courts can decide whether the state’s policy violates their rights.”

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