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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Youth Climate Suit Plea

Air Date: Week of

The 21 youth plaintiffs in the Juliana et al. v. United States case. (Photo: Robin Loznack, Our Children’s Trust)

June 4th, 2019 marked the latest effort of 21 young people to be able to call federal government witnesses and defendants to account in a trial of their climate change lawsuit against the US government. Attorneys for the plaintiffs and defendants in Juliana v. U.S. made oral arguments to a panel of three judges of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Host Steve Curwood has the story.


CURWOOD: Back in 2015, 21 young people filed suit against the US Federal government on the grounds that it is not protecting them from the growing dangers of climate disruption. But the suit has yet to come to trial as the government has sought to throw it out on procedural grounds, resulting in four appeals seeking to keep the case alive. The latest effort spearheaded by attorney Julia Olson for the youth came before three judges of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals with oral arguments on June 4th. Jeff Clark of the Justice Department claimed the courts do not have the right to force the Trump Administration or Congress to act on climate.

CLARK: It is a case that is a dagger at the separation of powers. There are no logical stopping points in Ms. Olson’s theory. You can take that, you can apply it to any Clean Air Act situation because people breathe air pollution; they can die. They can have lung dysfunction. They can have other forms of health problems.

CURWOOD: Attorney Julia Olson offered an example of why the government is responsible for depriving the youth of their due process rights to a livable climate.

OLSON: Almost 25 percent of US emissions come from federal public lands. And when the federal government controls the system, facilitates it, subsidizes it, promotes it, as it does, that creates a claim for a substantive due process violation.

CURWOOD: The three judge panel seemed sympathetic to the cause, but as Judge Andrew Hurwitz explained, in this case, its unclear the courts have jurisdiction.

HURWITZ: You present compelling evidence that we have a real problem. You can make compelling evidence that we have inaction by the other two branches of government. It may even rise to the level of criminal neglect. The tough question for me, and I suspect for my colleagues, is do we get to act because of that?

CURWOOD: Both the youth and the Trump Administration now await a ruling from Judge Hurwitz and the other two judges on the appeals court panel, Mary Murguia and Josephine Staton, on whether there will be a trial.



The New York Times | “Judges Give Both Sides a Grilling in Youth Climate Case Against the Government”

Our Children’s Trust | “Juliana v. United States

Listen to Living on Earth’s earlier coverage of Juliana v. United States


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