EUGENE, Oregon, August 13, 2015 (ENS) – Claiming that they are victims of harmful climate policies and activities perpetrated by the U.S. government, 21 children from across the country have filed a constitutional climate change lawsuit against the United States.
Filed in U.S. District Court in Eugene, the young plaintiffs, eight of them Eugene residents, are asking the court to order President Barack Obama and the members of his Cabinet to quickly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and put a national plan in place to stabilize the climate.
The lawsuit was filed on International Youth Day, Wednesday, August 12. It is backed by Our Children’s Trust, a Eugene nonprofit organization that supports similar lawsuits with children as plaintiffs in all 50 states.
Serving as co-plaintiff is world-famous climate scientist Dr. James Hansen, acting as a guardian for his granddaughter, Sophie Kivlehan, 17, and for future generations.
Kivlehan says, “I know climate change is going to have the biggest impact on my generation and generations to come. Our government isn’t taking action and we have a very small window to turn this around. I feel responsibility to take action.”
In a declaration submitted to the court in support of this complaint, Hansen writes, “In my opinion, this lawsuit is made necessary by the at-best schizophrenic, if not suicidal, nature of U.S. climate and energy policy.”
Hansen is an adjunct professor at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, and director of the Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions program there. He is the immediate past director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.
Hansen declares that there is still a “real, but highly time-limited, opportunity to rapidly phase-down CO2 emissions, restore energy balance, and stabilize the climate system.”
The nonprofit organization Earth Guardians is also named as a co-plaintiff. This “tribe of young activists, artists and musicians from across the globe” state in the complaint that they are “stepping up as leaders and growing a resilient movement with youth at the forefront, who are empowered to create a sustainable world for themselves and future generations.”
The complaint states that, by its actions and omissions with regard to climate change, the federal government has violated the youngest generation’s fundamental constitutional rights to life, liberty, property and equal protection, and has failed to protect the plaintiffs’ rights as beneficiaries of the federal public trust.
The lawsuit states that for over 50 years, the United States has known that carbon dioxide, CO2, pollution from burning fossil fuels was causing global warming and dangerous climate change, and that continuing to burn fossil fuels would destabilize the climate system on which present and future generations of our nation depend for their wellbeing and survival.
“Defendants also knew the harmful impacts of their actions would significantly endanger Plaintiffs, with the damage persisting for millennia,” the complaint states.
Yet, for decades the defendants continued their policies and practices of allowing the exploitation of fossil fuels, the plaintiffs allege.
Specifically, the plaintiffs object to the approval granted by the U.S. Department of Energy for the export of liquefied natural gas, LNG, from the proposed Jordan Cove LNG terminal in Coos Bay, Oregon.
Jordan Cove LNG is a subsidiary of Veresen Inc., an energy infrastructure company based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
“This export terminal will be the largest projected source of CO2 emissions in Oregon, and will significantly increase the harm that Defendants’ actions are causing to Plaintiffs,” the lawsuit states. “The Jordan Cove project enhances the cumulative danger caused by Defendants affirmative aggregate actions.”
The child plaintiffs are asking the court to declare that the U.S. government has violated and continues to violate their fundamental constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property “by causing dangerous CO2 concentrations in theatmosphere and dangerous government interference with a stable climate system.”
They are seeking an injunction requiring the federal government to stop this behavior, and in particular to declare the Energy Department’s order granting long-term multi-contract authorization to Jordan Cove Energy, unconstitutional and set it aside.
The lawsuit takes aim at the federal Energy Policy Act, claiming it is unconstitutional because it requires the Energy Deparment to approve permits for export and import of natural gas to any country with which the United States has a free trade agreement.
The plaintiffs say President Obama’s recently announced Clean Power Plan does not go far enough to stabilize the climate, because it addresses only the emissions from power plants that burn fossil fuels.
“Through his office, the President continues to promote fossil fuel exploitation, which causes unsafe levels of atmospheric CO2, dangerously interferes with a stable climate system, and violates Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights,” the complaint states.
“President Obama has failed to dismantle the U.S. fossil fuel edifice, adding an additional 100,000 miles to the 2.5 million miles of oil and gas pipelines within the nation,” it states.
The plaintiffs want the court to order the federal government to prepare a consumption-based inventory of U.S. CO2 emissions.
And they are asking the court to order the government to prepare and implement an enforceable national remedial plan to phase out fossil fuel emissions and draw down excess atmospheric CO2 so as to stabilize the climate system.
“Since 1990, Defendants have known that CO2 levels in the atmosphere must be stabilized at or below 350 parts per million in order to protect our nation’s climate system and that a swift transition away from fossil fuels was necessary. Twenty-five years later, today’s best science confirms that 350 ppm is the maximum safe level of atmospheric CO2 required to restore a stable climate system,” the lawsuit states.
“Defendants have for decades ignored their own plans for stopping the dangerous destabilization of our nation’s climate system,” the plaintiffs claim.
“Defendants have known of the unusually dangerous risks of harm to human life, liberty, and property that would be caused by continued fossil fuel use and increased CO2 emissions,” say the plaintiffs.
But they allege that the federal government has “willfully ignored this impending harm and exerted sovereign authority over our country’s atmosphere and fossil fuel resources to increase the production and combustion of fossil fuels, by and through their aggregate actions and omissions, deliberately allowing CO2 emissions to escalate to levels unprecedented in human history, resulting in a dangerous destabilizing climate system for our country and these Plaintiffs.”