A U.S. federal judge has delivered a major blow to one of the Trump administration’s key policies.
A group of brave young Americans brought forth the suit, Juliana V. United States, are alleging that dirty energy companies and the federal government are inflicting irreparable environmental damage. A statement delivered by Judge Ann Aiken this week will allow the suit to move forward.
“This action is of a different order than the typical environmental case. It alleges that defendants’ actions and inactions–whether or not they violate any specific statutory duty–have so profoundly damaged our home planet that they threaten plaintiffs’ fundamental constitutional rights to life and liberty,” Judge Aiken wrote.
In what experts call a remarkable expansion of US common law, a group of 21 young plaintiffs (aged eight to nineteen), along with the environmental advocacy organization Earth Guardians, and Dr. James Hansen of Columbia University, acting as guardian for future generations, filed this action against defendants the United States, President Barack Obama, and numerous executive agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), alleging in their complaint that the defendants “deliberately allow[ed] atmospheric CO2 concentrations to escalate to levels unprecedented in human history.”
The legal issue covered by the opinion was “whether defendants are responsible for some of the harm caused by climate change, whether plaintiffs may challenge defendants’ climate change policy in court, and whether this Court can direct defendants to change their policy without running afoul of the separation of powers doctrine.”
The judge says “this is no ordinary lawsuit.” Analysts say it sets the stage for a group of young Americans to sue federal regulators over climate change issues and could prove to be a hallmark ruling in U.S. history.
The new developments come as the Trump administration is battling widespread criticism over its environmental policies, including the recent decision to end U.S. involvement in the Paris global climate change agreement.
This is the first such climate lawsuit to depend upon a reading of the public trust doctrine (also known as atmospheric trust), in order to make its case. This lawsuit is another in a growing number of attempts to bring about climate action by use of the judicial branch.
This case going forward could be interesting. It’s well known the Trump administration is factually challenged, and as long as the law is on the kids’ side, this could embarrass the White House to a large degree.