Kids Win the Right to Sue the US Government Over Climate Change

Kids Win the Right to Sue the US Government Over Climate Change

By Sarah Emerson
Nov 11 2016
A bright speck of climate news was quickly overshadowed by the presidential election this week—America’s children have officially won the right to sue their government over global warming.

Yesterday, a lawsuit filed by 21 youth plaintiffs was ruled valid by US District Judge Ann Aiken in Eugene, Oregon. A group of citizens, whose ages range from nine to 20, charged President Obama, the fossil fuel industry, and other federal agencies with violating their constitutional rights by declining to take action against climate change.

“Federal courts too often have been cautious and overly deferential in the arena of environmental law, and the world has suffered for it,” wrote Judge Aiken in her ruling.

Along with renowned climate scientist James Hansen, who in 1988 pleaded with Congress to consider the harmful effects of greenhouse gas emissions, the youth group was applauded by activists who saw their lawsuit as a much-needed beacon of hope for future generations. In it, the plaintiffs accused the US government and energy trade industries of endangering their rights to life, liberty, property, and to vital public trust resources.

In 2015, the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), and the American Petroleum Institute (API), along with the US government, motioned for the case to be thrown out before US Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin. Their opposition was based on a “lack of subject matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim.” Judge Coffin rejected their motion, although the defendants appealed, and was later succeeded by Judge Aikin after his retirement.

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