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The Kids Are Alright (to Proceed With Climate Change Lawsuit Against Government)

By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on

There's no doubt the children are our future. But with the drastic effects of climate change looming, their future is looking bleak, environmentally speaking. So what can be done? Sue the adults!

At least, those adults in charge of the government. Back in 2015, 21 children sued the U.S. government (from then-President Barack Obama to 11 federal agencies and their secretaries), claiming federal fossil fuel policy violates the Ninth Amendment rights of future generations. And despite repeated attempts to dodge the case, a federal judge set a trial date in October of this year when the adults in charge of the government will have to answer to the kids on climate change.

"Your Honor, We Have Issues..."

The Obama administration didn't do their successors any legal favors. As Courthouse News reports, Obama's Department of Justice lawyers conceded most of the scientific claims made by the kids' lawsuit were true, less than a week before handing the case over to the Trump administration. Trump lawyers have scrambled to dismiss the claims, arguing discovery would be too burdensome, and that the remedy sought by the children -- the judicial branch ordering the executive and legislative branches to act in a certain way -- violated separation of powers under the Constitution.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin was not swayed by either argument, especially if the government wasn't challenging the underlying science. "Your honor, we have issues with respect to the application dealing with the solution or redressability issue," U.S. Attorney Marissa Piropato responded. "That's not really about the science, it's about the application of the science." That could put the government in the unenviable position of arguing not that climate change isn't real, or that its effects aren't damaging, but that the Constitution allows the government to disregard the catastrophic effects of climate change, and, in effect, ruin the planet for future generations.

Legally Permitted to Pollute?

Julia Olson, the lead attorney for the young plaintiffs and chief counsel of Our Children's Trust, called the government's position illegal. "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," she 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."

That trial is set to start in October.

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