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Chernaik v. Brown

ELR Citation: 50 ELR 20242
Nos. 39, (Or., 10/22/2020)

The Oregon Supreme Court affirmed, 6-1, an appellate court decision vacating a lower court ruling that no trial was needed in a climate change lawsuit concerning Oregon's obligations to protect natural resources under the public trust doctrine. Two young Oregonians argued the state was required to act as a trustee to protect various natural resources in Oregon from substantial impairment due to greenhouse gases and resulting climate change and ocean acidification, and sought an injunction ordering the state to prepare an annual accounting of its carbon dioxide emissions and to implement a carbon reduction plan. The court held the public trust doctrine encompassed navigable waters and the submerged and submersible lands underlying those waters, and that although the public trust was capable of expanding to include more natural resources, it declined to do so at this time. It further declined to adopt the plaintiffs' position that under the doctrine the state had the same fiduciary duties that a trustee of a common-law private trust would have, such as a duty to prevent substantial impairment of trust resources. It therefore affirmed the appellate court's decision and remanded to the trial court to enter a judgment consistent with this decision.