Story originally published by The New Lede
US environmental regulators have allowed “dangerous levels of climate pollution” to destabilize the climate system with horrific impacts that will worsen over time, according to allegations laid out in a federal lawsuit filed Sunday by a group of California youth.
“We are running from wildfires, being displaced by floods, panicking in hot classrooms during another heat wave,” 15-year-old plaintiff Noah C. said in a statement. He is one of 18 young people named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) filed in US District Court for the Central District of California. (The last names of the plaintiffs are abbreviated due to their ages.) “We feel a constant worry about the future, and all around us no one is moving fast enough.”
EPA Administrator Michael Regan and the US federal government are also named as defendants in the case.
The lawsuit charges the government with knowingly endangering the lives and welfare of the nation’s youth by permitting unsafe levels of greenhouse gas emissions tied to the burning of fossil fuels, in violation of the US Constitution’s rights to life, equal protection, and due process. Additionally, the case contends that EPA has acted beyond its constitutionally delegated authority in allowing extensive climate pollution that harms human health and welfare.
The climate crisis is “government-imposed and sanctioned,” the lawsuit states. “Climate crisis is the single greatest driver of the health of every child born today.”
The plaintiffs seek a court declaration that EPA has violated their constitutional rights and breached its constitutional duty, and it asks courts to clarify for the first time the judicial standard of review for protecting the rights of children as a distinct and protected class.
The new case hones in on the “longstanding discrimination” against children who are disproportionately affected by climate harms and who are unable to vote in electoral politics, said Andrea Rodgers, a lawyer at Our Children’s Trust, the nonprofit law firm that has spearheaded rights-based youth climate litigation in the US.
“This case really focuses on EPA’s systemic discrimination against young people because of their knowing conduct in allowing climate pollution,” Rodgers said. “I think it’s all the more urgent when you’re talking about children. They do not have the political protection that adults have, and that’s why they’re going to the courts.”
The EPA declined to comment on the lawsuit itself, but said in a statement the agency “is committed to using the full scope of its authorities to protect communities and reduce the pollution that is driving climate change,” and “appreciates that young people are sounding the alarm on climate change.”
The lawsuit, Genesis B. v. United States Environmental Protection Agency, comes just four months after a court ruling in favor of young residents of Montana in the first youth-led climate lawsuit to go to trial in the US. In that ruling, Judge Kathy Seeley of the Montana’s First Judicial District Court asserted that the state’s constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment includes climate.
Several other US courts have similarly recognized the right to a stable climate system. Earlier this year the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that citizens have the right to a “life-sustaining climate system” and a case in Oregon brought by 21 youth is moving forward after the judge in that case rejected the government’s efforts to dismiss it.
“There is one federal agency explicitly tasked with keeping the air clean and controlling pollution to protect the health of every child and the welfare of a nation—the EPA. The agency has done the opposite when it comes to climate pollution and it’s time the EPA is held accountable by our courts for violating the US Constitution and misappropriating its congressionally delegated authority,” Julia Olson, executive director of Our Children’s Trust said in a statement.