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Days ahead of trial, US Supreme Court asked to dismiss climate suit


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Days ahead of trial, US Supreme Court asked to dismiss climate suit

The Trump administration on Oct. 18 asked the U.S. Supreme Court to order a lower court dismiss a lawsuit brought by a group of children who want the government to do more on climate change.

Eleven days before the Oct. 29 start of the bench trial in the case, the U.S. Justice Department appealed to the high court for a second time and asked it to outright order the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, Eugene Division, to "end this profoundly misguided suit."

"Respondents' position amounts to the astounding assertion that permitting or encouraging the combustion of fossil fuels violates the Due Process Clause of the Constitution and a single district court in a suit brought by a handful of plaintiffs may decree the end of the carbon-based features of the United States' energy system, without regard to the statutory and regulatory framework Congress enacted to address such issues with broad public input," said the petition for a writ of mandamus.

Alternatively, the Supreme Court could review the decisions by the district court judge and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit that allowed the case to proceed at the district level, the petition said.

The Supreme Court previously dismissed the administration's request for relief without prejudice on the grounds the case was premature, but the Trump administration said it has no choice but to ask the court to intervene before the trial begins.

"Mandamus is especially appropriate here, because it is the only way 'to prevent a lower court from interfering with a coequal branch's ability to discharge its constitutional responsibilities,'" the administration said in quoting from a 2004 high court ruling in a different case.

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. 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, which has moved to unwind regulations holding back fossil-fuel development.

District Court Judge Ann Aiken on Oct. 15 dismissed President Donald Trump from a lawsuit without prejudice to potentially adding him later but also found the evidence shows that the children's alleged climate-related injuries are linked to government actions. Moreover, Aiken rejected the administration's argument that the case should be dismissed because the climate-related claims fall under the Administrative Procedures Act, which allows entities to challenge specific agency actions but only within a specific amount of time after the decisions were made. Aiken ruled the claims were brought directly under the U.S. Constitution.

In addition to asking the high court to intervene, the administration asked Aiken to stay the proceedings until the Supreme Court rules on the petition for a writ of mandamus. The administration noted that the judge has estimated the trial could last for 50 days.

The administration argued the lower court incorrectly found there was enough injury to proceed with a trial or that the impacts of climate change could be directly linked to the actions or inaction of the U.S. government.

"The asserted injuries arise from a diffuse, global phenomenon that affects every other person in their communities, in the United States, and throughout the world," the petition said. "Finally, even if respondents could somehow establish injury-in-fact and causation, they could not establish that their asserted injuries likely could be redressed by an order of a federal court."

In her order, Aiken suggested some of the actions the federal government could take to address the climate change-related injuries could include phasing out all greenhouse gas emissions within decades or converting the nation's entire power fleet to renewables, the petition said.

"But neither respondents nor the court has cited any legal authority that would permit such an unprecedented usurpation of legislative and executive authority" by a court, the petition said. "Quite aside from these fatal flaws with respect to standing, this suit simply is not one that a federal court may entertain consistent with the Constitution." (Juliana v. United States (6:15-cv-01517))