VICTORY! Washington State Youth Win Unprecedented Decision in their Climate Change Lawsuit

Youth Plaintiffs outside King County Courthouse for Oral Arguments May 15, 2015
Youth Plaintiffs outside King County Courthouse for Oral Arguments May 15, 2015

Judge Orders Washington Environmental Agency to Consider Youth-Proposed Carbon Dioxide Reductions

Seattle, Washington – On Tuesday, King County Superior Court Judge Hollis Hill issued a landmark decision in Zoe & Stella Foster v. Washington Department of Ecology, the climate change case brought by eight young citizens of Washington State. In her decision, Judge Hill ordered the Washington Department of Ecology (“Ecology”) to reconsider the petition the eight youth filed with Ecology last year asking for carbon dioxide reductions, and to report back to the court by July 8, 2015, as to whether they will consider the undisputed current science necessary for climate recovery.

Last June, the young petitioners filed a petition for rulemaking to Ecology requesting that the agency promulgate a rule that would limit carbon dioxide emissions in Washington according to what scientists say is needed to protect our oceans and climate system. The youth also asked Ecology to inform the Legislature that existing statutory greenhouse gas reductions must be revised based on current climate science. On August 14, 2014, Ecology denied the petition without disputing the underlying scientific bases for petitioner’s plea. Arguing that they have a fundamental right to a healthy environment, and that they are faced with increasing harms posed by climate destabilization and ocean acidification, the young petitioners filed an appeal of the denial to vindicate this right on behalf of themselves and future generations.

“The effect of this decision is that for the first time in the United States, a court of law has ordered a state agency to consider the most current and best available climate science when deciding to regulate carbon dioxide emissions,” said Andrea Rodgers of the Western Environmental Law Center, attorney for the youth petitioners. “The court directed Ecology to apply the agency’s own findings that climate change presents an imminent threat to Washington and demands immediate action. The ball is now in Ecology’s court to do the right thing and protect our children and future generations.”

In a footnote to her order, Judge Hill explained her plain reasoning for rejecting Ecology’s plan to delay action, referencing a December 2014 report from Ecology: “Ecology suggests no change in greenhouse gas reduction standards until after an international climate conference scheduled in Paris in December 2015, thus delaying action for at least a year from the date of the report or one year and five months after the report’s original due date. Neither in its briefing nor in oral argument of this appeal did the Department seek to justify this suggested delay. The report itself states that after the Paris conference Washington would be better informed how the state’s limits should be adjusted.”

“Kids understand the threats climate change will have on our future,” said 13-year-old petitioner Zoe Foster. “I’m not going to sit by and watch my government do nothing. We don’t have time to waste. I’m pushing my government to take real action on climate, and I won’t stop until change is made.”

The court’s opinion acknowledges that climate change is currently happening and will have devastating impacts on the natural environment of Washington. Citing Ecology’s December report, the court wrote: “Washington State’s existing statutory limits should be adjusted to better reflect the current science. The limits need to be more aggressive in order for Washington to do its part to address climate risks.”

Ecology has recognized that “we are imposing risks on future generations (causing intergenerational inequities) and liability for the harm that will be caused by climate change that we are unable or unwilling to avoid.” Current climate science finds that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels must be reduced from the current global annual mean concentration of 401 parts per million, to 350 ppm by 2100 in order to achieve climate stabilization and protect our oceans from catastrophic acidification.

“This encouraging court decision reminds us that there is still good basis for optimism about legal strategies that aim to require governments to draft an action plan consistent with a more stringent mitigation target than the ones that are commonly discussed,” said the youth’s expert, NASA climate scientist Dr. Pushker Kharecha. “I hope the Department of Ecology realizes that such a plan would be more achievable than they think in this case, and that they will therefore choose to amend their decision accordingly.”

“This is a decision of immense national significance,” said Julia Olson, executive director of Our Children’s Trust, the nonprofit spearheading similar cases around the country. “Judge Hill acknowledges the urgent and dire acceleration of global warming, refuses to accept any more bureaucratic delay, and mandates that the State consider and act in just two weeks time on the youth’s scientific evidence that atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide must be reduced to 350 ppm. This judge understands the role of the judiciary to enforce citizen’s rights to fair evaluation of their grounded petitions and the critical urgency that government act substantively and without delay to protect the state’s resources and the children who depend on them.”

“The court’s decision brings a feeling of triumph,” said 14-year-old petitioner Aji Piper. “But I know there is still a lot of work to be done. We may have one a battle, but we’re still fighting a bigger war.”

The legal geniuses of Our Children's Trust making history in Seattle for Oral Arguments, May 2015
The legal geniuses of Our Children’s Trust making history in Seattle for Oral Arguments, May 2015

The youth petitioners acted with the help of Our Children’s Trust, an Oregon-based nonprofit orchestrating a global, game-changing, youth-driven legal campaign to establish the right to a healthy atmosphere and stable climate. The legal effort advances the fundamental duty of government today: to address the climate crisis based on scientific baselines and benchmarks, and to do so within timeframes determined by scientific analysis. Our Children’s Trust is a nonprofit organization advocating for urgent emissions reductions on behalf of youth and future generations, who have the most to lose if emissions are not reduced. OCT is spearheading the international human rights and environmental TRUST Campaign to compel governments to safeguard the atmosphere as a “public trust” resource. We use law, film, and media to elevate their compelling voices. Our ultimate goal is for governments to adopt and implement enforceable science-based Climate Recovery Plans with annual emissions reductions to return to an atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration of 350 ppm. http://www.ourchildrenstrust.org/ The Western Environmental Law Center is a public interest nonprofit law firm. WELC combines legal skills with sound conservation biology and environmental science to address major environmental issues throughout the West. WELC does not charge clients and partners for services, but relies instead on charitable gifts from individuals, families, and foundations to accomplish its mission. http://www.westernlaw.org

NOAA, Global Greenhouse Reference Network, Global CO2 for April 2015 (http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends/ 1 global.html).

Dr. Pushker Kharecha is a climate scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (http://www.giss.nasa.gov/ 2 staff/pkharecha.html) and Columbia University Earth Institute (http://www.earth.columbia.edu/eidirectory/displayuser.php? userid=1860).

VIDEO – Ambassadors Share Plan with Governor Inslee’s Climate Workgroup

Zoe and Wren TVW CLEW Olympia
Zoe and Wren speak to the Gov’s hearing. CLICK BELOW to watch!

WATCH VIDEO  http://tvw.org/index.php?option=com_tvwplayer&eventID=2013120003#start=7854&stop=8106

Thanks a billion Zoe and Wren! Stay tuned when they finish to hear from a surprised grownup!

Zoe and Wren speak to Governor Inslee’s Climate Workgroup

Two 7th graders from Seattle announced the Washington Billion Tree Campaign as part of Plant-For-The-Planet’s global reforestation effort. With clear moral authority the 2 ambassadors set the new goal of 6% emission cuts to hold earth to 1-degree warming for this generation. Is the Workgroup listening?

From Zoe’s point of view “While I was giving my speech, I looked up at the governor and saw him taking a picture of me. It kind of freaked me out because, well, the governor was taking a picture of me, and shouldn’t it be the other way around? So I tried to keep giving my speech,  and not burst out laughing, but I got a little tripped up.”

“It was kind of freaky, but exciting.” She would definitely recommend the experience for ambassadors everywhere. “Speaking with Wren was really nice, but I probably wasn’t as scared as she was because it was her first speech, but she did great!”

Wren had the important task of announcing Washington’s Billion Tree Campaign to the Governor at the hearing. Her energy and enthusiasm certainly made tree-planting sound like fun. When Wren concluded, “So who’s ready to plant some trees?” the entire room erupted in applause and cheers!

https://climatechangeforfamilies.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/governor-inslee-with-zoe-and-wren-e1387001528515.jpg?w=380&h=468

According to Zoe there’s no time to waste. “We really need to get started because we keep talking about it, but how many trees have we actually planted? The Governor can help get people to plant trees, and he could create jobs by paying people to plant trees in our forests.”

Like the Plant-For-The-Planet campaign says, “STOP TALKING. START PLANTING.”

SIGN and SHARE their petition. The public comment period ended, but with the Workgroup split along party lines, your input is still welcome. You can also share comments directly by email:
climateworkgroup@ecy.wa.gov

 Ambassadors Wren and Zoe from Plant-For-The-Planet share a moment with Washington Governor Jay Inslee in Olympia.
Ambassadors Wren and Zoe from Plant-For-The-Planet share a moment with Washington Governor Jay Inslee in Olympia.

From Olympia’s newspaper The News Tribune:

Majority at Olympia climate hearing make case for less fossil fuel

BY BRAD SHANNON

Staff writer December 13, 2013

“Climate scientists may have reached a consensus about the danger of human contributions to climate change, but getting a political consensus for how to respond will take some time at the Washington state Capitol.

Friday’s third and final hearing before Gov. Jay Inslee’s climate workgroup elicited an array of messages from the environmental movement, business groups, the oil industries and a slew of individuals — including two school kids from Seattle who are part of a project planting trees and said they can’t afford to wait for action.

 Most of the roughly 50 people who spoke at the three-hour hearing at the Capitol urged the bipartisan workgroup — which has two legislators from each major party and Inslee as its non-voting chairman — to recommend that the Legislature take immediate steps to reduce carbon pollution from fossil fuels, which is implicated in global warming.”

More news and links from Olympia soon!

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