Almost 10 years ago, the Haney and Voyles families of Washington County, Pennsylvania, began suspecting that a nearby fracking operation was contaminating their community and threatening their health. Family members noticed their water smelled strange, and they suffered from frequent headaches, nosebleeds, dizziness and extreme fatigue to the point where Haney’s son was diagnosed with Arsenic poisoning. In 2012, the families sued Range Resources, and journalist Eliza Griswold documented their struggle in her 2019 Pulitzer Prize winning book “Amity and Prosperity”.
After seven years, the high profile fracking suit has ended in a settlement, information released to the public via an unintentional computer error. Range Resources will be required by law to pay the families $3 million dollars in damages. Read more…
Our use of fossil fuels is driving carbon dioxide levels higher and accelerating global warming. However, most of the impacts from our overuse of coal and oil fall on people who haven’t yet been born, much less had the chance to contribute significantly to climate change. Should future generations be able to sue over global warming? According to several courts in the United States, the answer is yes.
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In mid-April, twenty-one young people received the go-ahead from an Oregon judge that their lawsuit against the U.S. government for failing to act on climate change could proceed. The plaintiffs, between ages 8 and 19, alleged that the federal government, by failing to act on climate change and continuing our pattern of polluting the atmosphere with carbon dioxide, has caused harm to today and tomorrow’s youth, and violated their constitutional rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Previous climate-related lawsuits have focused mainly on violations to specific environmental laws, and this was the first to focus purely on constitutional rights. The federal government and the fossil fuel industry moved to dismiss the lawsuit, but the court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs.
In Washington State, young people recently won a major victory against climate change. A group of eight children filed a lawsuit against the Washington State Ecology department for endangering their rights by not taking strict measures against climate change. The court ruled that the state must create rules to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the end of 2016, fulfilling their responsibility to protect air quality for future generations. Late in May, a group of four young people in Massachusetts won a lawsuit in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, which ordered the state’s Department of Environmental Protection to set stronger regulations against greenhouse gases. These groups, as well as the students in Oregon, were represented by the non-profit group Our Children’s Trust. This group also has pending cases in North Carolina and Colorado, and is engaged in international work.
According to experts on climate change, future generations will bear the brunt of global warming impacts. This week, Dr. Frederica Perera of Columbia University penned an op-ed for Environmental Health News about why our climate change policies should focus on children. While adults do suffer illness and death as a result of fossil fuel pollution, children’s health and development suffer profoundly from our lack of regulation. “While air pollution and the adverse health impacts of climate change affect us all,” Perera writes, “they are most damaging to children, especially the developing fetus and young child and particularly those of low socioeconomic status, who often have the greatest exposure and the least amount of protection.” Perera also published an article in Environmental Health Perspectives on our moral obligation to protect our most vulnerable population – children – from climate change.
As the lawsuits in Massachusetts, Oregon and Washington demonstrate, youth activists and climate change organizations are prepared to tackle this issue head-on, and in at least a few cases, the courts are prepared to listen. We can only hope that robust regulations will follow on the heels of legal victories, so that today’s children are the last generation of young people to have to sue for protection from climate change. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for generations to come are dependent on our ability to reduce our fossil fuel consumption and our emission of greenhouse gases – and as these lawsuits prove, we cannot wait any longer.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]
By Dylan Lenzen
Just in the last few years, groups of U.S. teenagers have begun filing lawsuits against state and federal governments in an effort to force governments to adequately respond to the threats posed to climate change. Some groups have actually been somewhat successful in doing so. The most monumental of these cases involves 21 children and renowned climate scientist James Hanson who are suing the Obama Administration and other federal agencies in an attempt to force serious action in response to climate change.
This most recent case involving the Obama administration is the result of multiple lawsuits filed by youth in all 50 states since 2011. Some of these cases have actually seen some success. Most recently, in Washington state, a group of 8 teenagers won their case against the Department of Ecology. The King County Supreme Court judge who heard the case did not agree with the teenagers’ argument in entirety, and as a result, did not order the Department of Ecology to draft rules for cutting carbon emissions. With that said the judge did state, “[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][the youths’] very survival depends upon the will of their elders to act now, decisively and unequivocally, to stem the tide of global warming…before doing so becomes first too costly and then too late.”
The organization that has inspired these recent legal efforts is Our Children’s Trust. Their work has culminated with a lawsuit with the Obama administration. The argument that is made by these young people accuses the federal government of infringing upon the rights of young people. In their own words, “in causing climate change, the federal government has violated the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, property, as well as failed to protect essential public trust resources.” So even though we are already feeling the impacts of climate change today, it is clear that future generations will be most affected by climate injustice.
This effort that seeks to create change through judicial channels as opposed to traditional ones and comes at a very important time. With the upcoming UN Climate Summit in Paris, it will be incredibly important that domestic policies show that the U.S. is adequately responding to threat that the science of climate change has shown. Utilizing the judicial system, the arm of government that appears least effected by the lobbying power of deep-pocketed fossil fuel interests, could prove to be an important step in ensuring domestic action is taken to combat climate change.
Winning this lawsuit against the federal government will not be without challenges. It could take years before the case even reaches the Supreme Court. Even if it does make it to the Supreme Court, it is difficult to say whether five justices will support a decision in support of Our Children’s Trust. In addition, the influence of fossil fuel interests will be difficult to avoid. Most recently, three trade groups, that represent the likes of Exxon Mobile, Koch Industries, and others, have requested to be allowed to join the Obama administration as co-defendants in the case.
Despite these challenges, we can only hope for future generation that our government will take the threat of climate change as a serious matter.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]