A federal district judge has dismissed President Donald Trump from a lawsuit brought by a group of children who want the government to do more on climate change. However, the judge also found that the evidence shows that the children's alleged climate-related injuries are linked to government actions.
Weeks ahead of the Oct. 29 start of the bench trial in the case, Judge Ann Aiken of the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, Eugene Division, on Oct. 15 found Trump should be dropped from the lawsuit due to separation of power issues and because the remedy for the alleged injuries can be addressed by federal agencies. "It is not enough ... to show that the President was involved in the challenged action; plaintiffs must show that effective relief is unavailable unless it is awarded against the President," Aiken said.
However, Aiken also rejected the federal government's claims that the case should be dismissed because the children failed to show how they are being directly injured or that the alleged climate-related impacts are directly linked to federal actions. "Plaintiffs have filed sworn declarations attesting to a broad range of personal injuries caused by human-induced climate change," Aiken said.
In 2015, two environmental groups and 21 children filed suit in the district court against then-President Barack Obama, numerous federal agencies and executive branch officials alleging the government has a constitutional responsibility to take more steps to curb carbon dioxide emissions and address climate change. The U.S. Supreme Court in July denied the Trump administration's request to stay the lawsuit.
Some U.S. cities and states have also sued major integrated oil and gas companies over climate change. Courts have dismissed two of those cases, reasoning that dealing with climate change and curbing carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels is the responsibility of the federal government.
If a federal court ultimately rules that the government must take action on climate change, it could have wide-reaching implications for U.S. energy policy, particularly if the case is resolved during the current administration. President Donald Trump has pledged to pull out of the Paris Agreement on climate change, questioned whether man-made emissions have contributed to climate change and directed his administration to unwind regulations holding back fossil fuel development.
As for the claims of injury in the case, the judge recalled that some of the children said their homes have been flooded due to sea level rise and extreme weather events, causing emotional trauma. The children also said they have lost food security, economic stability and recreational interests due to climate destabilization and ocean acidification. Others point to concerns over access to drinking water and local food sources, as well as the increased occurrence and intensity of seasonal wildfires. Aiken also found that expert testimony ties the alleged injuries by the federal government to fossil-fuel induced global warming.
"In sum, the court is left with plaintiffs' sworn affidavits attesting to their specific injuries, as well as a swath of extensive expert declarations showing those injuries are linked to fossil fuel-induced climate change, and if current conditions remain unchanged, these injuries are likely to continue or worsen," Aiken said. "Federal defendants offer nothing to contradict these submissions, and merely recycle arguments from their previous motion."
In addition, Aiken said the evidence shows that federal defendants' actions or inaction, such as coal leasing, oil development, fossil fuel industry subsidies and the setting of fuel efficiency standards for vehicles, led to the children's alleged injuries.
"Plaintiffs have proffered uncontradicted evidence showing that the government has historically known about the dangers of greenhouse gases but has continued to take steps promoting a fossil fuel based energy system, thus increasing greenhouse gas emissions," Aiken said.
Aiken nevertheless stressed that her ultimate finding on causation will be made after the trial. "The ultimate issue of causation will require perhaps the most extensive evidence to determine at trial, but at this stage of the proceedings, plaintiffs have proffered sufficient evidence to show that genuine issues of material fact remain on this issue," Aikens said. (Juliana v. United States (6:15-cv-01517))