Children Sue Trump Gang For Making Climate Change Worse
On November 6, two children in Pennsylvania, along with the Clean Air Council, sued President Donald Trump, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The people and agencies named in the lawsuit will be forced to meet their Constitutional obligations to protect the nation’s citizens, this time from the threat of climate change.
In the lawsuit, the complaint refers to “current acts to roll back regulations and practices previously directed at minimizing the United States’ contribution to climate change,” which, it says, “will increase … extreme weather events and dangers to the plaintiffs’ living environment.” It goes on to say:
“Through these acts, the government is relying on junk science to wage a war on facts, data and reliable principles and methods arising out of scientific, technical and specialized knowledge. In doing so, the defendants have acted with reckless and deliberate indifference to the established clear and present dangers of climate change, knowingly increasing its resulting damages, death and destruction.”
As reparation, the lawsuit demands that the courts issue “a declaration that the current United States government’s rollback program affirmatively increases the United States’ contribution to climate change and intensifies its effects, thereby endangering the lives and welfare of United States citizens in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Constitution.”
As for who is behind the suit, the first plaintiff is a child identified as “S.B., through his guardian Danecia Berrian.” He is seven years old, is a citizen of the United States and lives in Philadelphia. According to the suit,
“He suffers from severe seasonal allergies, which cause recurrent nosebleeds and vomiting. S.B.’S medical issues are directly impacted by the climate. He loves to play sports, and increasing temperatures and extreme weather events caused by the defendants’ actions affect his athletic performance and ability to enjoy outdoor activities safely. As a result of the United States government’s actions, S.B.’S allergy symptoms have been exacerbated and will continue to worsen as climate change becomes more severe. For example, S.B. needed to be hospitalized during Hurricane Irene in 2011, and his mother experiences anxiety during extreme weather events, fearing that he may need to be hospitalized again in the future.”
The second plaintiff is “B.B., through his guardians Diane and Thomas Berman.” Also a seven-year-old U.S. citizen residing in Philadelphia, he has asthma, which the documents cite is “exacerbated by climate change.” He directly experienced the impacts of Super Storm Sandy and Hurricane Irene – the kind of storms whose growing force over past years has been tied in part to the rapid pace of climate change.
Both children are noted as “experiencing harm as a result of the defendants’ affirmative acts in causing increased climate change.”the final plaintiff is the Clean Air Council, a member-supported environmental organization headquartered in Philadelphia. Among other things, the court filing states: “The Council is currently fighting for strong regulations of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane at both the state and national level. These pollutants make up over 90% of America’s greenhouse gas emissions. Due to its emissions of CO2 and methane, Pennsylvania alone is responsible for a full 1% of the world’s greenhouse gases.”
The lawsuit goes after the defendants on the grounds that they, through the environmental rollbacks they have caused to happen, have interfered “with a stable climate system.” They further say that the individuals and agencies cited have violated the public-trust doctrine and infringed upon the plaintiffs’ Fifth and Ninth Amendment rights.
As examples of the wrongful acts carried out by the Trump administration, the lawsuit suggests the following:
• Removing the United States from the Paris climate accord (The United States is now, in fact, the only former pledge to the Paris Agreement who has pulled out.)
• Eliminating the requirement for methane-emissions reporting by oil and gas companies
• Approving the Keystone XL pipeline
• Proposing cuts to federal agencies dealing with climate change (including both NASA in its monitoring and predictive capacity as well as the Environmental Protection Agency)
• Proposing the repeal of the Clean Power Plan
• Purging scientists from the Environmental Protec
tion Agency’s board of scientific counselors The lawsuit argues that prior to the current administration, the United States recognized “the imminent dangers presented by climate change” and, as a re- sult, “the federal government undertook steps in the last decade to reduce the threats and protect U.S. citizens and the planet.”
As soon as the Trump administration came into power, however, “the United States government embarked on a program of reversing, unraveling, dismantling and eliminating regulations, practices and research previously committed to addressing, understanding and minimizing the United States’ contribution to climate change (‘the federal government rollbacks’ or ‘the rollbacks’) and its life-endangering effects.” The suit alleges that by using “junk science” or “faulty scientific information or research, especially when used to advance special interests, the government has in effect waged a war on facts, data and reliable principles and methods arising out of scientific, technical and specialized knowledge.”
The suit goes on to say, “The rollbacks increase the United States’ contribution to climate change and intensify the frequency and severity of its effects, including, among others, death, shortening of life expectancy, property damage, degradation of food sources and alteration of ecosystems.” It goes on to claim that “through the rollbacks, the government is knowingly and recklessly placing the nation’s population in harm’s way” and that the defendants “have acted with reckless and deliberate indifference to the established clear and present dangers of climate change, thereby increasing its resulting damages, death and destruction.”
This lawsuit shares a number of similarities with another major suit filed by children against the U.S. government on the issue of climate change.
That suit, Juliana v. United States, filed in 2015 for the U.S. District Court of Oregon, exposes the government on even broader grounds than the current litigation. It asserted that because of specific affirmative actions by the U.S. government that affect climate change, the children’s constitutional rights “to life, liberty and property” were violated and – in a note similar to part of the new lawsuit – that the government failed to protect essential public trust resources.
In that litigation, the fossil-fuel industry was initially not part of the suit but joined it later to attempt to get the case dismissed but have so far failed. (See the June 2016 Trillions article entitled Big Oil - Big Lies for more information about how the fossil fuel industry knew for 60 years that it would cause global warming and climate change and concealed its own studies showing the outcome we are now experiencing.)
Since that case was filed, there have been several important decisions in it that suggest this is going to be a long-fought legal battle. Those decisions include the following:
• April 8, 2016: U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin recommended a denial of the defendants’ motions to dismiss.
• November 10, 2016: U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken upheld Judge Coffin’s recommendations, with a major opinion and order along those lines.
• June 8, 2017: Judge Aiken ruled against an interlocutory appeal of the previous order, this time one that had been filed by the Trump administration.
• June 28, 2017: Now that the fossil-fuel industry defendants’ attempts to get the case dismissed were failing, Judge Coffin ordered that those specific defendants be released from the case. In the same order, he also set a trial date for February 5, 2018, before Judge Aiken at the U.S. District Court of Oregon in Eugene.
• July 28, 2017: The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals requested attorneys for the youth plaintiffs, as well as the District Court, to respond to the U.S. government’s petition for a writ of mandamus in the case. That basically was a call by the U.S. government for a higher authority (in this case, the Ninth Circuit Court) to order the lower court to “do its job” as mandated. Put another way, it was yet another attempt to have the decision to allow the case to go forward to be reversed. The District Court responded on August 25, the youth plaintiffs filed their answer on August 28 and eight amicus briefs were filed with the Ninth Circuit Court in support of the youth plaintiffs.
All of the litigants are currently awaiting the decision of the three-judge Ninth Circuit Court panel. In parallel, the children and their lawyers are getting ready for the trial starting February 5.
Traveling Minds covered some of the lawsuit’s actions in an article published March 17, 2017, entitled “U.S. Justice Department Comes Out Swinging in Climate Change Lawsuit and More.” Besides this last case, there is a pattern of sorts being followed here – using children as the focal point of such litigations. One example is a lawsuit filed earlier this year by nine-year-old Ridhima Pandey of India. In her attack on her government, she said, “The government of India – a country that is the third worst contributor of greenhouse gas emissions in the world – is guilty of just standing by while companies, individuals and government agencies continue to dump toxic materials into the earth, water and air.” Her suit demands immediate action by that government to do something to start acting responsibly, enforce the environmental laws that are already in place and find a way to make India a healthier place to live. As evidence for what is happening, Pandey and her lawyers cite specific laws that were already passed by the Indian government and that the government is ignoring. Like her U.S. counterparts, Pandey also notes: “My government has failed to take steps to regulate and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which are causing extreme climate conditions. This will impact me and future generations.”
Pandey’s story was covered in Trillions in an article published May 2, 2017, entitled, “Indian Girl Demands Justice from Her Government in Environmental Court.”
The new lawsuit is, of course, just getting started, and many argue that it may have even more powerful grounds than the Oregon case because of the specific actions the current and previous administrations have taken on the subject of climate change.
As Carroll Muffett, president of the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), said about this case, “While the U.S. government’s actions on climate change prior to this administration fall far short of what is needed, they provide a baseline level of protection that cannot and must not be reversed,” yet “the Trump administration continues its campaign to eviscerate vital climate protections and destroy the scientific tools needed to assess, reduce and respond to climate risks.” “From undermining the Paris Agreement to dismantling vital climate satellites to jettisoning guidance on climate and infrastructure, the defendants have demonstrated a reckless disregard for the lives, livelihoods and rights of U.S. residents and people around the world,” Muffett continued. “In so doing, they have created a clear violation of fundamental rights that can and should be urgently addressed by the courts.” Motions by the defendants in this new litigation to dismiss the case are likely already in process.
Trillions will be following these important cases as they move forward.