Judge rules school children can pursue climate change lawsuit against Washington State

King County Superior Court Judge Hollis Hill says young petitioners deserve 'their day in court' to protect their rights

Phuong Le
Wednesday 21 December 2016 10:45
Petitioner Gabe Mandell, centre, 14, addresses media members and supporters as he stands with other children asking Seattle court to force state officials to adopt new rules to limit carbon emissions
Petitioner Gabe Mandell, centre, 14, addresses media members and supporters as he stands with other children asking Seattle court to force state officials to adopt new rules to limit carbon emissions

Eight Seattle children should have “their day in court” to argue that Washington State and others aren't protecting them from climate change, a judge ruled.

King County Superior Court Judge Hollis Hill allowed the young petitioners to move ahead in their case against the state, writing that “it is time for these youth to have the opportunity to address their concerns in a court of law, concerns raised under statute and under the state and federal constitutions.”

The petitioners, between 12 and 16 years old, had asked the judge last month to find the state Department of Ecology in contempt for failing to adequately protect them and future generations from global warming.

The judge on Monday said Ecology had complied with her orders by adopting the Clean Air Rule within the timeline set by the court, and so denied the youth's request to find Ecology in contempt.

But the judge allowed the young people to amend their complaint and move ahead with their constitutional claims “so as to have their day in court,” she wrote.

“The Court takes this action due to the emergent need for coordinated science based action by the State of Washington to address climate change before efforts to do so are too costly and too late,” Hill wrote.

The petitioners can now go to court and argue that the state has violated their rights under the state constitution and the legal principle called the public trust doctrine, which requires the government to protect shared resources, said Andrea Rodgers, a Western Environmental Law Center attorney representing the youth.

All of the policies that the state has implemented in response to climate change are not resulting in emissions reductions that comply with state law and science, she said.

Ecology spokeswoman Camille St. Onge said the state has adopted one of nation's most progressive carbon pollution reduction regulations and “will continue to do our part to help slow climate change.”

The case is part of a larger effort led by the Oregon-based nonprofit Our Children's Trust to force governments to take action on climate change.

Last month, a federal judge in Eugene, Oregon, allowed a similar climate change case against President Barack Obama's administration to proceed. In that lawsuit, 21 activists ages 9 to 20 argue that the federal government's actions violate their constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property, and the government has violated its obligation to hold certain natural resources in trust for future generations.

The judge in Seattle noted that the youth argued in their initial petition for a rule limiting greenhouse gas emissions based on the best available science. A rule was adopted but, the judge wrote, Ecology agreed that it isn't intended to meet the requirements of a state law requiring specific reductions of greenhouse gas emissions over the next decades.

The petitioners say governments must adopt science-based prescriptions that protect the rights of young people and future generations to a stable climate.

The judge said she would retain jurisdiction in the case.


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