youth plaintiffs

Children in California are suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

(Photo: Our Children's Trust)

'Earth Needs Our Help': California Kids Sue EPA Over Climate Pollution

"We're challenging the EPA's failure to protect us. The air we breathe has become a casualty of their opposition."

As the United Nations climate talks cast a spotlight on the fossil fuel-driven climate emergency, the U.S. law firm Our Children's Trust on Sunday launched a constitutional lawsuit against the Biden administration on behalf of 18 California children "growing up with polluted air and a government-imposed and -sanctioned climate crisis."

Filed in the U.S. District Court in the Central District of California, the complaint takes aim at the federal government, the Environmental Protection Agency, and its administrator, Michael Regan, arguing that the "EPA's conduct in controlling the pollution that enters the nation's air actively discriminates against children, and these plaintiffs, knowingly causing them disproportionate harm compared to similarly situated adults and burdening them with a lifetime of hardship."

Avroh, a 14-year-old plaintiff, said in a statement Monday that "we are experiencing what no one should have to experience. We're facing constitutional negligence. We're challenging the EPA's failure to protect us. The air we breathe has become a casualty of their opposition."

Another plaintiff, 8-year-old Neela, said that "I believe kids can make a difference and the Earth needs our help. I want to help protect the people and places I love. I'm excited to be a part of this case and be a voice for all kids who deserve a healthy environment."

"We feel a constant worry about the future, and all around us no one is moving fast enough."

Catherine Smith, of counsel to Our Children's Trust—which secured a landmark victory while representing Montana youth in state court earlier this year—argued that "in times like this, when the legislative and executive branches have breached their obligation to young people by intentionally allowing climate pollution and explicitly discounting children's lives in some political or economic calculus fully aware of its consequences to youth, courts must serve as a constitutional backstop to end it."

The plaintiffs—who are ages 8-17—are seeking "a declaratory judgment that as children they are entitled to a heightened level of
judicial review over government conduct that burdens them with lifetimes of hardship, that they are members of a constitutionally protected class, and that defendants have violated their constitutional rights," according to the complaint.

"They also seek declaratory relief that defendants have infringed their fundamental rights to life, including their personal security and happiness, and in so doing have also acted outside the scope of their delegated authority," the filing adds. "Plaintiffs seek further relief as deemed necessary and proper to enforce a declaratory judgment after the facts are found and the legal conclusions of the district court are rendered on a full evidentiary record."

Noah, a 15-year-old plaintiff, warned that "time is slipping away, and the impact of the climate crisis is already hitting us directly. We are running from wildfires, being displaced by floods, panicking in hot classrooms during another heatwave."

"We feel a constant worry about the future, and all around us no one is moving fast enough," Noah noted. "The Constitution guarantees every American the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness including and especially children."

Our Children’s Trust chief legal counsel Julia Olson declared that "these children are rising up from fire, smoke, heat, and flood to share their stories of physical harm and despair, along with their clarion call to adults—'our equal rights to life matter as much as yours.'"

"There is one federal agency explicitly tasked with keeping the air clean and controlling pollution to protect the health of every child and the welfare of a nation—the EPA," she continued. "The agency has done the opposite when it comes to climate pollution and it's time the EPA is held accountable by our courts for violating the U.S. Constitution and misappropriating its congressionally delegated authority."

In addition to representing youth plaintiffs in Held v. State of Montana—which the state is now appealing—Our Children's Trust is the group behind Juliana v. United States, the constitutional climate lawsuit first filed on behalf of 21 young people in 2015. While a June ruling put Juliana on track to proceed to trial, the Biden administration continues its battle to quash the case.

E&E Newsreported Monday that "while Juliana targets a swath of government agencies," the new case, Genesis B. v. EPA, singles out one agency. Our Children's Trust senior staff attorney Andrea Rodgers explained that the firm hopes the focus will mean that the EPA "won't fight this case" in the way that the Obama, Trump, and Biden administrations have targeted Juliana.

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