A federal judge in Oregon on Friday ruled that the lawsuit brought against the U.S. government by a group of youths last August can go to trial—a huge victory for the case climate activists are calling "the most important lawsuit on the planet right now."
The lawsuit, filed by 21 plaintiffs ages 8-19, and climate scientist Dr. James Hansen, states that the federal government is violating their right to life, liberty, and property, as well as their right to public trust resources, by enabling continued fossil fuel extraction and use.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin in Eugene, who called the case "unprecedented," rejected motions by federal lawyers and representatives of fossil fuel groups to dismiss the lawsuit. He stated in his decision (pdf) that the plaintiffs "give this debate justiciability by asserting harms that befall or will befall them personally and to a greater extent than older segments of society."
There is a need for a court to assess the "constitutional parameters of the actions or inactions taken by the government," Coffin said.
Philip Gregory, who represents the plaintiffs, said in a statement that the decision is "one of the most significant in our nation's history."
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"The court upheld our claims that the federal government intensified the danger to our plaintiffs' lives, liberty, and property.... The next step is for the court to order our government to cease jeopardizing the climate system for present and future generations," Gregory said. "The court gave America's youth a fair opportunity to be heard."
Lawyers for the fossil fuel groups said the lawsuit posed a "direct, substantial threat" to their businesses, an argument Coffin rejected. The defendants have 14 days to file objections to the ruling.
One plaintiff, Kelsey Juliana, said the decision "marks a tipping point on the scales of justice.... This will be the trial of the century that will determine if we have a right to a livable future, or if corporate power will continue to deny our rights for the sake of their own wealth."
The decision was lauded by environmental activists.
"This is as important a court case as the planet has yet seen," said Bill McKibben, co-founder of climate group 350.org. "To watch the next generation stand up for every generation that will follow is as moving as it is significant."