A pioneering global warming lawsuit brought against the federal government by 21 children could change everything for the Trump administration.
Originally filed back when Barack Obama was still in office, the plaintiffs claim that the government is infringing on their right to life, liberty, and property by refusing to take action against climate change. They also claim that politicians are violating the public trust doctrine, which holds the government accountable for taking care of “vital resources,” such as the ecosystem.
Although legal experts aren’t sure what might happen to the case as it heads to court, a handful of federal judges have given the young plaintiffs hope for a cleaner tomorrow.
In 2016, a federal district court judge in Oregon “wrote an opinion preliminarily finding that a stable climate is a fundamental constitutional right.” Slate reported that U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken had taken the kids’ side when she refused to let the government dismiss the suit.
The plaintiffs, who range in age from 9 years old to 20, are vocal about their fears for what a darker and less regulated tomorrow might mean for future generations.
“This is going to be the trial of our lifetimes,” said Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, 16, in a statement.
The counsel representing the children will argue that the government is willfully and negligently putting corporate interests above those of ordinary citizens. Both the Obama administration and lobbyists for the fossil fuel industry tried and failed to get the lawsuit thrown out.
Similar cases have been heard around the world. Victories for climate protection advocates came in Austria, Pakistan, and South Africa. In the Netherlands, a high court ordered ruled that the Dutch government had to begin cutting carbon emissions by at least a quarter over the course of the next five years.
Environmental activists have plenty of reasons to cheer on the children – the appointment of Scott Pruitt, former Oklahoma Attorney General, seems to be the beginning of the end for the EPA. Donald Trump himself made a promise as a candidate to dismantle the organization and begin doing away with regulations that make it harder for businesses to toss their trash into protected bodies of water and spew pollution into the air.
Not long after the new president was inaugurated, the plaintiffs petitioned the Department of Justice to preserve any and all documents that “could be relevant to the lawsuit,” according to The Washington Post. Rumors about Trump administration officials telling the EPA to remove data and links to climate change studies from their website stoked the fears of the children and their attorneys.
The order to remove information about global warming from the EPA web page was rescinded shortly after it was issued.
If Donald Trump and his judiciary get their way, the lawsuit will be cast to the wayside. So far, they’ve tried arguing that preserving documents about climate change constitutes a hardship on the government, which is in the process of slashing the EPA’s budget by a quarter and firing a fifth of its staff.
Should the plaintiffs get their day in court and win, the consequences would be enormous.
How far 21 children can get when they’re up against a president who denies climate change and an EPA chief who called global warming a myth prior to his appointment remains to be seen.