Eight Washington youths have won a landmark case protecting their right to inherit a clean environment. Judge Hill of King County Court ruled that the Department of Ecology would have to instate stricter carbon emission limits by the end of 2016. The ruling found that “[t]he state has a constitutional obligation to protect the public’s interest in natural resources held in trust for the common benefit of the people.”
This victory for the next generation didn’t come easy. Our Children’s Trust supported the youths’ petition against Washington’s Department of Ecology as the young plaintiffs asked for the state to align its emission-reduction goals with levels supported by scientific research. After being ignored by the Department of Ecology, the youths brought their plea to Gov. Inslee and then to the county court in 2015.
The Department of Ecology argued its current goals were fine, set to curb emissions to 50 percent of 1990 levels by 2050. The young plaintiffs argued that climate science proves that’s not enough. Only an 80% reduction in emissions will protect Washington’s environment from climate change.
Judge Hill ruled in favor of the young plaintiffs. Rather than allow the Department of Ecology to ignore scientific findings and set their own timeline, the state will mandate a deadline to protect citizens’ rights. Judge Hill stated:
“[young peoples’] 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.”
While this victory only applies at the state level, it could help similar cases across the country. Another lawsuit was filed at the federal level in August 2015 in the U.S. Court for the District of Oregon. And Big Oil has also taken notice. In that federal case, representatives for fuel conglomerates like ExxonMobil and BP have filed a request to intervene, calling these lawsuits “a direct threat to [their] businesses.”