SEATTLE – An environmental law firm is using young students to pressure the state of Washington into implementing strict carbon emissions caps, and Gov. Jay Inslee is doing his part to press their case.
Andrea Rogers, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center, is suing the state with the help of eight young “climate activists” who testified before King County Judge Hollis Hill about why the state Department of Ecology should reduce carbon emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, Seattle Weekly reports.
Anything less, they argued, would lead to “intergenerational inequalities.”
Rogers secured excused absences for the students, aged 11 to 15, to plead her case reduce emissions below levels set by lawmakers in 2008 – 50 percent under 1990 levels by 2050. The group petitioned the Department of Ecology for the change, but the department declined. The response prompted the lawsuit, and Hill ordered the Department of Ecology to reconsider, but the request was essentially ignored.
Gov. Jay Inslee intervened and held a conference with several of the students, who “asked him to direct Ecology to promulgate a rule,” Rogers said, and the governor later requested the department enforce the 2008 limits. But Rogers and company weren’t satisfied, and decided to press their case in court.
“The leadership needs to say, ‘We’re taking action that is grounded in science,’” Rodgers said. “Unless and until Ecology says that, then these kids will keep fighting.”
According to The Stranger, “Their case rests on climate scientists advocating for emissions targets in line with a 1 degree Celsius increase in global surface temperatures by the end of the century, which is lower than the 1.5 or 2 degree Celsius increase used as a target by diplomats at the United Nations.”
“Ecology, for its part, says that Inslee’s executive order should give the youths sufficient opportunity to voice their opinion with other stakeholders, and that the agency will wait to see what happens at the UN’s climate conference in Paris this winter to help inform targets for the carbon cap rule. The state has also argued that testimony from the kids’ assembled experts—including famed and sometimes controversial climate scientist Dr. James Hansen—should be thrown out because they weren’t part of the record when Ecology made its initial decision about the youths’ petition.”
Assistant Attorney General Kay Shirey, who was representing the state, told the court Ecology is currently updating emissions rules, and argued that “eliciting the fundamental rights of future generations is legally immaterial,” Seattle Weekly reports.
Shirey also pointed out there’s no legal mandate for the state to listen to the kids, according to King 5.
Students, on the other hand, believe that if Washington doesn’t change its polluting ways, the world will flood.
“If we don’t do this, catastrophic things are going to happen,” 13-year-old Gabe Mandell argued. “I mean, cities are gonna be flooded, states are gonna be flooded, countries are gonna be flooded, Bangladesh is gonna be completely underwater, the ocean’s gonna be acidified. And climate change is going to cause a huge monetary downfall! There’s really no reason to be for climate change.”
“I feel like we have a chance of winning,” he said. “It was well-argued on both sides, I’ll say. I think we did a little bit better – I hope we did a little bit better – but we have extremely good points. We’re going to live in this world. It’s our constitutional right to have clean air and clean water.”
Hill said she would issue a ruling in the lawsuit soon.
The Seattle case among a flood of other, similar “youth-led” lawsuits currently in the works, though none have gained much traction, according to The Associated Press.
Our Children’s Trust, which also has a hand in the Seattle lawsuit, “has been leading efforts to file lawsuits or administrative petitions in every state and against the federal government,” the news service reports.
“Some of the youth-led cases have been dismissed, while others are pending in states including Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Oregon.”
“None of them have gotten to the finish line,” Michael Gerrard, Columbia University climate change law professor. “It’s an uphill climb. The U.S. courts have so far not wanted to set climate policy.”