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Juliana v. United States

ELR Citation: 46 ELR 20175
Nos. 6:15-cv-01517, (D. Or., 11/10/2016) (Aiken, J.)

A district court adopted a magistrate judge's recommendations and denied motions to dismiss a lawsuit brought by a group of young people against the U.S. government for failing to protect them from climate change. The plaintiffs alleged that the government has known for decades that carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution has been causing catastrophic climate change, yet has failed to take necessary action to curtail fossil fuel emissions. They seek immediate action to restore energy balance and implementation of a plan to put the nation on a trajectory that will reduce atmospheric CO2 concentrations to no more than 350 parts per million by 2100. The government and energy interest groups urged the court to dismiss the case, arguing the group lacks standing. But the court disagreed. At this stage of the proceedings, the allegations, which must be taken as true, establish U.S. action/inaction that injures plaintiffs in a concrete and personal way. The court noted that although the defendants and intervenors are correct that the plaintiffs likely could not obtain the relief they seek through citizen suits brought under the CAA, the CWA, or other environmental laws, that argument misses the point. The plaintiffs allege that defendants' actions and inactions—regardless of whether they violate any specific statutory duty—have so profoundly damaged the planet that they threaten plaintiffs' fundamental constitutional rights to life and liberty. In closing, the court commented that federal courts too often have been cautious and overly deferential in the arena of environmental law, and the world has suffered for it.