SEATTLE — A lawsuit filed by young climate activists who contend the U.S. government is failing to protect them from the harmful effects of greenhouse gas emissions can move forward, a federal judge in Oregon ruled Thursday.
U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken in Eugene denied motions by the federal government and trade groups representing big energy companies to dismiss the lawsuit. They had argued that lawmakers and federal agencies, not by the court, should determine climate change policy.
The plaintiffs, including 21 youths and climate scientist James Hansen, allege the federal government has known for decades that carbon pollution causes climate change but has failed to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
They 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.
Julia Olson, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, called the judge’s ruling significant and said the young activists are preparing for trial.
The federal case is among a series of similar lawsuits, including one in Seattle, filed by youth plaintiffs working with Our Children’s Trust, a nonprofit environmental group based in Eugene.
“This case is the most significant in terms of the defendants. It’s the United States, which is most responsible for causing climate change and the country best positioned to lead the world away from fossil fuels,” said Olson, who is the group’s executive director.
The U.S. government as well as the National Association of Manufacturers, the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers and the American Petroleum Institute, which intervened in the case, asked that the case be thrown out.
After U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin denied their motions to dismiss, the government and trade groups filed objections. The case then went before Aiken, who on Thursday adopted Coffin’s recommendations and findings, allowing the case to proceed.
In her ruling, Aiken wrote that “this action is of a different order than the typical environmental case” and she also noted that “a deep resistance to change runs through defendants’ and intervenors’ arguments for dismissal.”
The plaintiffs are seeking a court order that requires the government to create a plan to dramatically slash greenhouse gas emissions released by the burning of fossil fuels.
A message to the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., and lawyers representing the trade associations were not immediately returned.