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

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,[1]
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.
[2] “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 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.
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

For inquiries or
interview requests, please contact:

            Andrea Rodgers                      206-696-2851             gro.w1503427869alnre1503427869tsew@1503427869sregd1503427869or1503427869

            Julia Olson                              415-786-4825             gro.t1503427869surts1503427869nerdl1503427869ihcru1503427869o@ail1503427869uj1503427869


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

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

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