On Friday, Feb. 26, the Washington Department of Ecology withdrew its proposed rule to reduce carbon emissions in the state. The rule was supposed to remedy a lawsuit brought by eight youth petitioners against the state of Washington, in which Judge Hollis R. Hill declared “[the youths’] very survival depends upon the will of their elders to act now, decisively and unequivocally, to stem the tide of global warming…before doing so becomes first too costly and then too late.”
“This is incredibly devastating to us, because we spent a lot of time and energy working on our lawsuit, and it feels like no one cares at all about our futures,” said Wren Wagenbach, a youth petitioner in the case. “We are so shocked that Ecology made the decision to withdraw the rule that Governor Inslee directed them to do! We can’t understand this at all,” said youth petitioners Lara and Athena Fain.
The abandonment of the Clean Air Rule by Ecology continues the state’s pattern of aggressively refusing to take any meaningful action on climate, dating at least back to 2008, despite its recognition that urgent action is needed. That refusal has now weathered a 2015 court order finding that “the scientific evidence is clear that the current rates of reduction mandated by Washington law cannot achieve the GHG reductions necessary to protect our environment and to ensure the survival of an environment in which Petitioners can grow to adulthood safely” as well as a 2014 order from Gov. Inslee directing Ecology to undertake “additional actions now” “to meet our obligation to our children and future generations.”
“In our case, Ecology promised the court that it would issue a rule regulating carbon dioxide emissions and Ecology has broken that promise by going back to the drawing board this late in the game,” said Andrea Rodgers, the Western Environmental Law Center attorney who represents the youths. “Ecology’s decision makes it clear that it is up to the judicial branch to step in to protect these kids’ rights since Ecology has so spectacularly failed to do so yet again. We are evaluating all legal options available to us to hold Ecology accountable.”
“Ecology’s decision to stop their rule making has wasted copious amounts of time, has betrayed the trust of the youth, and continues to violate our constitutional rights,” said Aji Piper, one of the youth petitioners and a plaintiff in a climate change lawsuit against the federal government that is being argued in federal district court in Eugene, Oregon on March 9. “Unless Ecology issues a rule that follows the science, doesn’t rely upon poor solutions, and doesn’t bend to the will of money, generations to come will face hardships and troubles brought about by the inaction of people that have power now. We shouldn’t have to hold our government’s feet to the fire in order to protect our futures, but we will if we have to.”
In the youths’ case, Judge Hill determined the state has a “mandatory duty” to “preserve, protect, and enhance the air quality for the current and future generations,” and found the state’s current standards to fail that standard dramatically. The Court held that Ecology was working towards fulfilling its constitutional and statutory responsibilities because it was developing the Clean Air Rule. With Ecology’s withdrawal of the proposed rule, the agency’s continued failure to protect the youths’ rights indefinitely is assured and the legal violations are ongoing.
“Ecology’s withdrawal of the proposed rule confirms how critical it is for judges to implement their authority in a manner that holds agencies accountable for violating these kids’ fundamental rights” said Julia Olson, executive director of Our Children’s Trust. “Ecology’s promise to issue a new rule is meaningless given their track record of failing to take action to address climate change. Continued delay only perpetuates the legal violations recognized by Judge Hill and makes a livable future for these kids that more difficult to achieve.”
Agency documents show that Ecology was investigating the viability of a cap and trade program (under development in the withdrawn Clean Air Rule) back in December 2008 (Growing Washington’s Economy in a Carbon-Constrained World: A Comprehensive Plan to Address the Challenges and Opportunities of Climate Change). The plan was never put into place and its existence belies Ecology’s claims that they have not had enough time to develop a workable rule. While the youth petitioners had serious concerns about the content of the proposed rule since it was not targeted to achieving science-based emissions reductions, Ecology’s decision to start over makes it even more difficult to develop a rule that puts the state on a path towards climate stability.
“As representatives of future generations, we were very disappointed to hear of Ecology’s decision to once more delay taking strong action to address climate change and protect our constitutional rights to clean air and water,” said Gabriel Mandell, another youth petitioner. “We strongly advise that a revised rule proposal not ignore the fundamental need to make effective economy-wide cuts to carbon emissions without caving to the demands of polluters.”
A copy of the November 19th decision is available here.
A more detailed history of the case is available here.
Read more about our youth climate case here.
Our Children’s Trust is a nonprofit organization, elevating the voice of youth, those with most to lose, to secure the legal right to a healthy atmosphere and stable climate on behalf of present and future generations. We lead a global human rights and environmental justice campaign to implement enforceable science-based Climate Recovery Plans that will return atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration to levels below 350 ppm. 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. www.westernlaw.org
Plant-for-the-Planet connects children around the world as Ambassadors for Climate Justice, planting trees, educating the public, influencing decision makers, and now going to court with expert legal guidance. Children inspire children at Academies, free one-day workshops where children ages 8-14 find their voice speaking out for their future and taking action to create a better world. http://www.plant-for-the-planet.org