·  Legal News, Analysis, & Commentary

Lawsuits & Litigation

Trial Date Set for Unprecedented Climate Change Lawsuit Against Federal Government

— July 7, 2017

A trial date has been set for an unprecedented climate change lawsuit being brought against the federal government.

Begun when President Barack Obama was still in office, the suit was ordered to trial by U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin.

Coffin set the date for arguments to begin as February 5th, 2018.

The lawsuit garnered significant media attention earlier in 2017, given that it’s spearheaded largely by youths between the ages of 9 and 21. The plaintiffs all claim that the federal government is infringing upon their rights to life, liberty, and property by refusing to take action against climate change. They also claim politicians are violating public trust doctrine, which holds the government accountable for taking care of ‘vital resources’ such as the ecosystem.

Smokestacks emit gas into the atmosphere, with a polluted body of water in the foreground.
The youths behind the lawsuit say the federal government’s lack of action on global warming might infringe upon their right to life, liberty, and property. Image courtesy of Luke Sharrett, Bloomberg Press.

As part of his ruling, Coffin also ordered ‘three fossil fuel industry trade associations,’ who had joined the case last year as intervening defendants, to withdraw at their own request.

While the suit was filed when Barack Obama was still in office, the Trump administration is responsible for assuming the defense by default of its position as defendant.

The current administration is likely to play a more adversarial and vocal role, considering its dereliction of the Paris Climate Change Agreement and generally pro-industry, anti-environment stances.

The Washington Post reports that the lawsuit has already come a long way, having barreled over legal obstacles and triumphed numerous times in court. According to the Post, last November, U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken ‘denied motions to dismiss the case filed by the federal government and the intervening fossil fuel industry groups. More recently, she also denied the federal government’s request to appeal that decision.’

However, the Post also notes that the Trump administration invoked what the paper called a sort of ‘legal Hail Mary’ – a rarely used procedure known as a writ of mandamus, ‘which calls for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit to independently step in and review Aiken’s original decision to dismiss the case.’

“The United States – in both the previous and current Administrations – has endeavored to bring to an end this improper case that seeks to give one federal court control over federal energy policy,” said Mark Abueg, a public affairs specialist for the Justice Department, in an electronic correspondence with The Washington Post. “We have taken our arguments to the appellate courts.”

Experts consulted by the Post said they didn’t think any invocation of the writ of mandamus would be successful.

“I would say it would be extraordinary for the 9th Circuit to step in before there’s a full factual record in the case,” said lead counsel for the plaintiffs Julia Olsen.

Olsen said she expected a trial to last about six weeks.


This climate lawsuit could change everything. No wonder the Trump administration doesn’t want it going to trial

The Kids Suing the Government Over Climate Change Are Our Best Hope Now

A landmark climate lawsuit against Trump is scheduled for trial next year. Here’s what to expect.


Join the conversation!