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.
In Seattle, King County Superior Court Judge Hollis Hill has allowed eight children to advance in their case against the State of Washington. The judge ruled 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.”
Aged between 12 and 16 years, the group of youngsters asked Hill in November to rule that the Department of Ecology of Washington to be in contempt for its alleged failure to protect them, and future generations, from the effects of global warming. On December 19, Hill found that the state government had complied with her order to adopt the Clean Air Rule within the time set by the court, the plaintiffs’ request to find Ecology in contempt was denied. However, the judge also decided to allow the young plaintiffs to amend their original complaint and thus move ahead with their claims “so as to have their day in court.”
Hill 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.”
“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 constitution.” Judge Hill will retain jurisdiction in the case.
The ruling will allow the plaintiffs to prove “their government has failed and continues to fail to protect them from global warming,” and meet the remedies they seek from the State of Washington and the governor. The young people may now go to court and thus argue that the State of Washington violated their rights under the state constitution, and a legal principle called the public trust doctrine, which requires government to protect shared resources such as air and water.
Judge Hill’s decision comes on the heels of the Department of Ecology making recommendations for new legislation on greenhouse gas emissions limits for Washington State that will supposedly lead to catastrophic levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide. A statement by the Western Law Center, which is representing the child plaintiffs contends that the standard set by the state government -- carbon dioxide levels of 450 parts per million (ppm) and warming of 2°C -- are “not based on science and will not protect the youths' fundamental rights.”
"I once again express my gratitude to the honorable Judge Hollis Hill," said Gabe Mandell, a youth in the case. "She continues to recognize that to uphold children's rights to a safe and healthy future, governments must develop clear, science-based, enforceable plans to reduce carbon emissions. The time has long passed for Ecology to stop nibbling around the edges of the climate emergency."
In a statement by the Western Law Center, young Athena Fain -- who is president of Plant for the Planet Seattle -- said of the ruling "I was thinking about trees.”
Taking a swipe at President-elect Donald Trump, young Athena said, “They usually stand there; there's a kind of honesty in a tree that you're never going to find in a person. Especially in a time like this, when someone dishonest got into the White House, it's more important now to have trees in our life. I think advocating for trees is one of the most important things I'm going to do in my life. Judge Hill made it about truth. Science doesn't lie to us. Science tells us the truth.”
According to Attorney Andrea Rodgers, who is of counsel to the youngsters, the plaintiffs “want is the opportunity to present the science to the court because the government leaders of today have failed to implement climate policies that scientists and experts say are needed to protect the rights of young people and future generations.”
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 Washington case is just part of an effort to force all 50 state governments to adhere to the global climate change claims. In what Our Children’s Trust has described as a “landmark” federal lawsuit, U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken ruled in in a Eugene, Oregon, court this past November that denied motions by the federal government and energy corporations to dismiss a constitutional issue, thus allowing 21 young people from all over the country to have standing and advance to trial. Aiken wrote, “Exercising my ‘reasoned judgment,’ I have no doubt that the right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society.” The group is arguing that through the “affirmative action” of government “in causing climate change, it has violated the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, property, as well as failed to protect essential public trust resources.”