Is a Livable Planet a Civil Right? A Judge Will Decide This Fall

EUGENE, Ore. (CN) – At a trial set to kick off Oct. 29, U.S. attorneys will have the chance to make their argument that the Constitution allows the federal government to ruin the earth’s ability to support human life, a judge ruled Thursday.

Twenty-one kids sued the government in 2015, claiming decades of subsidies and policies allowed oil and gas companies to push the earth’s climate to the brink of catastrophe, despite government science showing the dire consequences.

Department of Justice lawyers under the Obama administration acknowledged most of the kids’ scientific claims were true – just days before handing the case to the Trump administration. Under Trump, the government appealed even though there hadn’t yet been a ruling. But the Ninth Circuit tossed the case back to the federal court, saying there is no reason to release the government from the novel and serious claims – no matter how difficult and potentially embarrassing to defend.

At trial, the kids will have to prove not only that climate change exists but also that they are personally harmed by it, that they have the right to be free from that harm and that the court can offer a reasonable solution – that the issue is redressable.

Those last two items are the ones the government now appears focused on.

At Thursday’s hearing, government lawyers bemoaned their workloads, claiming it would take months or years to depose the kids’ 17 expert witnesses and assemble its own roster.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin asked why the government was having such difficulty, given the fact that it had agreed with most of the scientific claims the kids lawyers were presenting.

U.S. Attorney Marissa Piropato answered that the dispute lies not in disagreement over whether climate change exists, but rather with the kids’ conclusion that climate change imperils their future.

“Your honor, we have issues with respect to the application dealing with the solution or redressability issue,” Piropato said. “That’s not really about the science, it’s about the application of the science.”

Julia Olson, lead lawyer for the kids and executive director of Our Children’s Trust, said after the hearing that the government had taken an illegal position – and one that will ultimately lose.

“The federal government’s argument is that it can destroy the climate system and that that is consistent with their obligations under the U.S. Constitution,” Olson told Courthouse News. “The founders of our country would roll over in their graves if they heard that. So they’re going to be proven wrong at trial.”

U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken will preside over the bench trial this fall.

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