Juliana V. U.S. Lawsuit
Author: Tia Hatton, plaintiff
Tia Hatton grew up in Bend. She is now one of 21 plaintiffs in the lawsuit suing our
Government to protect the Environment.
Since the industrial revolution, use of fossil fuels has brought the human population tremendous progress and opportunity, but it has also created a perpetuating global problem. A cause for alarm: increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide from pre-industrial levels of 280 parts per million (ppm) to current levels at over 400 ppm. The process of humans burning carbon based fossil fuels to increase the greenhouse gas effect is a scientific phenomenon our government has known about for a long time. The story of climate change, or global warming, is surprisingly well documented within various agencies of the executive branch, not excluding the office of the president. For example, the 1965 President’s Science Advisory Committee Report of the Quality of the Environment that concludes:
By the year 2000 an increase in atmospheric CO2…may be significant to produce measurable and perhaps marked changes in climate and will almost certainly cause significant changes in the temperature and other properties of the stratosphere.
In 1988, NASA’s top climate scientist Dr. James Hansen testified in front of congress saying greenhouse gas effect had arrived, along with predictions of outcomes we are beginning to see today, such as rising sea levels and increased droughts. Thirty years later the federal government has not heeded any advice of these warnings, they continue to affirmatively promote a national energy system dependent on fossil fuels by giving tax breaks to the industry, subsidizing fossil fuels, and promoting exploration and development of fossil fuels on public lands. The federal government failed to ratify the Kyoto protocol and has pulled out of the Paris Climate agreement. Effects of human caused climate change include rising sea levels, increased droughts, increased wildfires, increased risk of diseases related to warmer and wetter weather, the mass movement of climate refugees, food insecurity, psychological harm, and damage to unadaptable ecosystems.
The youngest generations will inherit this enormous, emerging burden. In August 2015, twenty young people and myself decided to take meaningful action to help stop this and get to the root of the problem: we sued the U.S. federal government. The defendants included President Obama, and heads of agencies such as the Departments of Energy, Department of Transportation, Department of Agriculture, and the Environmental Protection agency. Now, the lawsuit is against President Trump and his executive branch. With the help of our lawyers from Eugene, and the nonprofit Our Children’s Trust, we argue the government’s affirmative actions, along with the long standing knowledge of the harms of fossil fuels, violates our constitutional right to life, liberty, and property, and fails to protect essential public trust resources. We are asking for the courts to order the government to prepare a science based climate recovery plan that reduces atmospheric carbon dioxide levels to 350 ppm by the year 2100.
In the same year we filed the lawsuit, I became curious and began to understand the science of climate change. As a competitive Nordic skier throughout high school, I enjoyed every practice and race. In 2015, my senior year, Central Oregon received little snow, causing cancellations and limited time spent at Meissner. It got me thinking about the future of the snowpack in the Cascades. I knew the term “climate change”, but until that point, I had not seen the link between rising carbon dioxide level and rise in temperatures. In Spring of 2015, I went to a meeting with other local high school students to hear about how we could take action. Our Children’s Trust presented the story of youth in Eugene who successfully got their city council to pass a climate ordinance to curb carbon emissions according to scientific standards. Through this connection, Kelsey Juliana, who is now my co-plaintiff, emailed me asking if I was interested in joining the landmark lawsuit against the federal government. My answers was yes!
In the time since we filed the suit, the U.S. government has tried to dismiss our case. The fossil fuel industry joined as intervenors, unsuccessfully tried to dismiss the case, and then left the case. Most recently, the U.S. government filed a rare writ of mandamus, bringing the case out of the Federal Court in Eugene, to the Ninth District Court of Appeals in San Francisco. Three judges unanimously denied the attempt, and sent it back for trial to continue. I’ll admit our success has been surprising to many and the lawsuit is unconventional. However, our lawsuit has the characteristics of a suit similar in magnitude to Brown V. Board of Educationor Obergefell V. Hodges. In her decision to deny a motion to dismiss, U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken wrote “I have no doubt that the right to a stable climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society.”
The trial date is expected to be set shortly, we are hoping for fall 2018. I would like to extend an invitation to all of you to attend the start of trial in Eugene, OR. We can always use more resources, as Our Children’s Trust not only does work on this federal case, but also on the state level and internationally. Donate to Ourchildrenstrust.org. To stay up to date on the proceedings, please visit Youthvgov.org. I look forwardto seeing you at trial!