A group of young petitioners in Washington state fighting for a stable climate—and therefore a livable world—was vindicated late Thursday when a judge affirmed that the state has a constitutional and public trust obligation to protect the environment.
"It’s incredible to have the court finally say that we do have a right to a healthy atmosphere and that our government can’t allow it to be harmed," said 13-year-old petitioner Gabriel Mandell.
Mandell joined seven other young people in the case supported by Our Children's Trust that had requested the state's Department of Ecology use the best available science to write a rule on reductions in carbon dioxide emissions.
King County Superior Court Judge Hollis R. Hill wrote in her ruling (pdf) that the youths' "very survival depends upon the will of their elders to act now, decisively and unequivocally, to stem the tide of global warming by accelerating the reduction of emission of GHGs before doing so becomes too costly and too late."
"The scientific evidence is clear that the current rates of reduction mandated by Washington law cannot achieve the GHG reductions necessary to protect our environment and to ensure the survival of an environment in which Petitioners can grow to adulthood safely," Hollis wrote, adding that "the State has a constitutional obligation to protect the public's interest in natural resources held in trust for the common benefit of the people of the State."
She added: "the Public Trust Mandate requires that the State act through its designated agency to protect what it holds in trust. The Department of Ecology is the agency authorized both to recommend changes to statutory emissions standards and to establish limits that are responsible."
It's "a huge victory for our children and for the climate movement."
—Andrea Rodgers, Western Environmental Law Center Gov. Jay Inslee gave the petitioners remedy when he ordered the agency in July to develop a carbon emissions cap. So with this ruling, as Western Environmental Law Center Attorney Andrea Rodgers explains, Hollis "has made it very clear what Ecology must do when promulgating the Clean Air Rule: preserve, protect and enhance air quality for present and future generations and uphold the constitutional rights of these young people."
As Mandell explains it, "This ruling means that what the Department of Ecology does going forward in its rulemaking has to protect us, the kids of Washington, and not just us, but future generations too, like my children and those to come. Now they can’t decide to protect short-term economic fears and ignore us because we have constitutional and public trust rights to a stable climate!"
Rodgers described the ruling as "a huge victory for our children and for the climate movement.
"To Gov. Inslee, we hope you take this message with you to Paris," she said, referring to the upcoming UN climate talks, "and heed Judge Hill’s finding that 'if ever there were a time to recognize through action this right to preservation of a healthful and pleasant environment, the time is now.'"