On Wednesday, the US Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled in favor of a group of teenagers suing the federal government for its failure to address climate change. The Trump administration, like the Obama administration before it, had argued the lawsuit should not go to trial, and today’s ruling rebuked those efforts. It is likely the administration will now call on the Supreme Court to stop the lawsuit, according to Bloomberg.
21 individuals, most of whom are teenagers, first argued in 2015 that the government had violated the constitutional rights of current and future generations of young people by enacting policies that allowed carbon emissions to go unchecked. They say that consecutive presidential administrations, and eight different federal agencies, promoted regulations that allowed the energy industry to consume an increasingly large amount of fossil fuels, now responsible for one quarter of the world’s total emissions. The lawsuit calls on the courts to force the government to take decisive action to address a problem that has already cost billions in economic damage, according to one recent report from the Universal Ecological Fund. Those losses are projected to increase in the coming decade and beyond.
In a rarely utilized procedural move, the Justice Department argued that a judge who declined to dismiss the case in 2016 had overstepped the court’s authority, saying that such policy matters are the prerogative of the executive and legislative branches. The administration contends that the case depends on “utterly unprecedented legal theories,” and “unbounded” research into administrations as far back as Lyndon Johnson’s.
However, on Wednesday, the panel of three judges ruled unanimously that the arguments made by the administration are “better addressed through the ordinary course of litigation.”
According to the group’s lead attorney, Julia Olson, the ruling means “the green light for trial,” and allows the group to continue their fight against environmental injustice.
“We will ask the district court for a trial date in 2018 where we will put the federal government’s dangerous energy system and climate policies on trial for infringing the constitutional rights of young people,” according to Olson.
Unless the Supreme Court intervenes, it is now up to US District Judge Ann Aiken to decide whether government officials can face depositions in the case. The lawsuit has called on Secretary of State, and former Exxon chief Rex Tillerson to give testimony, but the deposition request was denied, as he faced confirmation to his current cabinet post.