By Karen Savage
The federal judge presiding over the landmark youth-led climate lawsuit has given the green light for the case to proceed to trial.
U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken denied motions filed earlier this year by the Trump administration that would have halted discovery and trial in Juliana v. United States, the first case in which a U.S. court has recognized the constitutional right to a safe climate.
In her ruling on Monday, Aiken rebuked claims by the Trump administration that the suit falls under the Administrative Procedures Act. That law outlines procedures for judicial review when plaintiffs make claims against a federal agency.
“Plaintiffs do not contend that any single agency action is causing their asserted injuries—nor could they, given the complex chain of causation involved in climate change. They seek review of aggregate action by multiple agencies, something the APA’s judicial review provisions do not address,” Aiken wrote in her opinion.
She also brushed off claims by the federal government that the young plaintiffs lacked standing in the case, ruling that the plaintiffs—who have submitted depositions and other evidence suggesting they have been harmed by the impacts of climate change—have demonstrated they have been harmed, that harm will continue and the harm can be attributed to the defendants.
“Plaintiffs submit evidence that fossil fuel emissions are responsible for most of the increase in atmospheric CO2 and that increasing CO2, in turn, is the main cause of global warming, and that the atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gasses, due to fossil fuel combustion, are increasing quickly such that planetary warming is accelerating at rates never before seen in human history,” Aiken wrote.
Julia Olson, executive director and chief legal counsel of Our Children’s Trust and co-counsel for youth plaintiffs praised the ruling.
“The District Court continues to provide well-reasoned decisions that narrow and appropriately frame the heart of this case for trial,” Olson said.
“Today the parties are filing with the court their witness lists and their pretrial memoranda. We are finalizing exhibits for trial and our experts and plaintiffs have booked their tickets to Oregon. We are ready to bring all of the facts forward and prove these youths’ case once and for all.”
In her ruling, Aiken noted that both plaintiffs and defendants agree that the federal government has contributed to the harm.
“Federal defendants have admitted that ‘from 1850 to 2012, CO2 emissions from sources within the United States including from land use ‘comprised more than 25 [percent] of cumulative global CO2 emissions.”
Aiken also rejected the government’s contention that a trial would violate the separation of powers doctrine. The government has argued that climate policy should be made by the legislative and executive branches, not by the courts.
“Courts have an obligation not to overstep the bounds of their jurisdiction, but they have an equally important duty to fulfill their role as a check on any unconstitutional actions of the other branches of government,” she wrote in the opinion.
Aiken did allow the motion to dismiss President Trump from the suit. He was dismissed with prejudice, however, meaning he could be called to testify in the future. In the hearing Aiken held on the government motions in July, the Department of Justice attorneys said they would only accept Trump’s dismissal without prejudice, so no future claims could be brought.
The suit was originally filed in August 2015 by 21 young plaintiffs from across the country who argue the U.S. government has failed to protect them from climate change by supporting an energy system reliant on fossil fuels. They are asking the federal government to implement a science-based plan to slow climate change.
The Trump administration has made several attempts to dismiss the case and thwart discovery and on Friday filed a third writ of mandamus request to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which has already denied the first two. It also indicated it intends to file a second petition to the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday.
So far, all have failed to stop the case and trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 29 in Aiken’s courtroom in Eugene, Ore.