Representatives of nearly the entire U.S. fossil fuels industry lined up on Thursday to help the federal government wage a legal battle against a group of young people—aged 8 to 19—who are demanding climate policies that respect the rights of current and future generations.
The 21 young plaintiffs filed a landmark lawsuit against the federal government in August, in which they charged that, by permitting the ongoing extraction and burning of fossil fuels at an astronomical pace, the administration of President Barack Obama is violating the constitutional rights of current and future generations—and failing to protect the public trust.
Now, some of the biggest fossil fuels companies in the world want to fight these young people's efforts.
Lining up against the children is the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), and the American Petroleum Institute (API)—which together represent nearly every Big Oil company in the country, including ExxonMobil, BP, Shell, and Koch Industries.
"Seeing giant fossil fuel corporations inject themselves into this case, which is about our future, really demonstrates the problem we are trying to fix."
—Xiuhtezcatl Tonatiuh Martinez, 15-year-old plaintiff from Colorado
The industry lobbyist groups explained their interest in the case by charging the lawsuit could "impair" their members. In what was described as an "unusual step" by lawyers representing the plaintiffs, the groups filed pleadings in U.S. District Court in Eugene, Oregon seeking permission to join White House's side in the lawsuit.
Their motion argues, "The impacts [of this lawsuit] could impair the interests of virtually the entire swatch of the NAM, AFPM, and API’s members," according to MSNBC reporter Tony Dokoupil who saw a copy of the filing.
By levying these claims, say the youth involved in the lawsuit, the fossil fuels industry is actually making their case for them.
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"Seeing giant fossil fuel corporations inject themselves into this case, which is about our future, really demonstrates the problem we are trying to fix," declared Xiuhtezcatl Tonatiuh Martinez, a 15-year-old plaintiff from Colorado, in a press statement released Thursday. "The Federal government has been making decisions in the best interest of multinational corporations and their profits, but not in the best interest of my generation and those to come."
"Instead of changing their business model to meet the scientific reality of climate change, these companies are demanding we adapt to an uninhabitable world that supports their profits," Martinez continued. "When you compare the two, I think it’s clear that our right to clean air and a healthy atmosphere, is more important than their 'need' to make money off destroying our future."
The young people's case is backed by the nonprofit organization Our Children's Trust, which seeks to protect rights to health and climate security on the federal, state, and local levels—and has won some key successes.
Ultimately, according to a summary of the case, the young people are seeking a court order that mandates the president to "immediately implement a national plan to decrease atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (“CO2”) to a safe level: 350 ppm by the year 2100."
Alex Loznak, an 18-year-old plaintiff from Oregon, argued that Big Oil "is starting to lose control of our political system."
"Last week, President Obama rejected the Keystone XL Pipeline, and New York State began to investigate Exxon's cover-up of climate science," Loznak continued. "The intervention of fossil fuel companies in our lawsuit against the Federal Government makes it clear that the industry is scared. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, 'first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.' The fight has begun, and we will win."