Could PNW kids suing over climate change force lawmakers to act?
Children across several states in the U.S. are suing the federal government over climate change, including in Oregon and Washington. But what exactly do they expect to get out of their lawsuit, and could it end up effecting actual change in the form of tangible new laws?
KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross spoke with Andrea Rodgers, an attorney at Our Children’s Trust, the group helping manage these lawsuits nationwide. For Rodgers and the children she represents, it’s primarily about the constitutional right to a future.
“Under the Fifth Amendment, you have the constitutional rights to life liberty and property, and you can’t enjoy a right to life without a stable climate system,” she said.
The goal with all these cases isn’t to win a payday in court. Rather, plaintiffs are looking for a judge to compel the government to pass climate change legislation.
“In this case we’re not seeking damages,” said Rodgers. “So, it’s different than that. We’re seeking injunctive relief in the form of a climate recovery plan.”
With the Green New Deal making regular headlines, could this case compel Congress to move forward on it? Not exactly, clarifies Rodgers.
“Courts will never write the policies,” she noted. “What they will do is they will declare the constitutional violations, and then it will be up to the defendants to come up with the policies and plans that meet the constitutional standard that the court declares.”
Rodgers likens it to the McCleary case, where a court ordered the Legislature to fund public education, but left the exact specifics up to lawmakers.
In Washington state, a King County Superior Court Judge granted a motion to dismiss the case last August. Now, it’s pending appeal before the Washington State Supreme Court. If the state Supreme Court turns it down, the case will instead get argued before the Washington Court of Appeals.
Plaintiffs in Oregon are in the process of appealing their own case, after a state appeals court ruled against them in January.
In both states, Rodgers cites yearly wildfires that have plagued the region more and more each year.
“I represent children in the Pacific Northwest who’ve suffered tremendously from the wildfire smoke that now shrouds our city,” she said. “The harms that these children are experiencing are real, the science is really clear that what we’re experiencing is the tip of the iceberg, and it’s going to get even more severe.”
The lawsuits aim for practical, but sweeping, fixes for climate change, including a sizable reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, investments in green technology, and more. According to experts who have evaluated that plane, those fixes are “technically and economically feasible, and the economic benefits are tremendous.”
In the meantime, Rodgers and her colleagues at Our Children’s Trust have a line of scientists and experts ready to testify on their behalf, including “some of the best climate scientists in the world.”