Federal court rules youth can sue federal government for climate change

Youth plaintiff Kelsey Juliana speaks to supporters and media in front of Eugene’s federal courthouse. (Andrew Field / Emerald)

The federal district court in Eugene ruled in favor of 21 youth, including University of Oregon student Tia Hatton, who are suing the federal government for the impacts of climate change, allowing the case to move to trial.

On Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken announced that she rejected the federal government and fossil fuel industry’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit. The youth, aged 9 to 20, are part of the Oregon-based Our Children’s Trust — a nonprofit that has helped children bring climate change lawsuits to courts around the nation and globe.

“This action is of a different order than the typical environmental case,” Aiken said in her ruling. “It alleges that defendants’ actions and inactions … have so profoundly damaged our home planet that they threaten plaintiff’s fundamental constitutional rights to life and liberty.”

The 21 environmental activists come from across the nation. On Thursday afternoon, six of the 11 Oregon plaintiffs gathered on the steps of Eugene’s Wayne L. Morse federal courthouse to celebrate the victory.

“Seventy-nine million people are under the age of 16 in this country,” said Julia Olson, a director for Our Children’s Trust and UO law professor. “Judge Aiken just cast her vote for the 79 million children in our country.”

The plaintiffs voiced concern over Donald Trump’s election victory on Tuesday, as Trump repeatedly called climate change a “hoax” during his campaign. Our Children’s Trust is suing the Obama Administration, but in two months, Trump’s administration will be the defendant to the case.

“This lawsuit may be one of the last bulwarks between a Trump presidency and complete climate catastrophe,” said plaintiff Jacob Lebel, 19. “So to President Obama, please, hear our voices and come to the table.”

Our Children’s Trust will meet with opposing council and will propose a schedule for moving forward to trial in the next couple of months.

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