Washington State Court Upholds Right to Clean Air

Written by Terry Gardner

Eight youths take on the establishment, big oil and the environment. Grr. Let’s get ’em, tigers!

Pollution shot from Children's trust video
aNewDomain — Last week, King County Superior Court Judge Hollis R. Hill ruled that the Washington Department of Ecology has a constitutional obligation to create a carbon emissions rule that protects the atmosphere for current and future generations.
In late June, Judge Hill had ordered the Washington Department of Ecology (“Dept. of Ecology”) to reconsider its initial denial of the petition brought by eight youths asking the department to make a rule for reducing greenhouse gas emissions based on the best available science. And in August, the Dept. of Ecology affirmed its denial of the children’s petition but said it was going to adopt a greenhouse gas emissions rule under a directive issued by Governor Jay Inslee on July 28 to set a regulatory cap on carbon dioxide emissions. The Governor had met with five of the petitioners in this case about their lawsuit less than two weeks before issuing his directive.
Safeguard our Air and WaterIn her ruling, Judge Hill quoted from the findings of the Department of Ecology’s publication last December, “Washington Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction Limits“:

The sea level is rising on most of Washington’s coast, ocean acidification has increased, and there’s long-term warming. Glaciers and spring snowpack have declined and the timing of stream flows has changed for many rivers. And, climate extremes like floods, droughts, fires and landslides are already affecting Washington’s economy and environment.

The effects of climate change on water supplies, public health, coastal and storm damage, wildfires, and other impacts will be costly unless additional actions are taken to reduce greenhouse gases.”
Technically, Judge Hill denied the petitioner’s appeal based on the Dept. of Ecology’s intentions to follow the Governor’s directive to utilize current science in establishing rules to reduce carbon emissions. But the language of her ruling makes it clear that the judge agrees with the young petitioners that their “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.”
And the court disagreed with the Department of Ecology’s attempt to separate navigable waters from the atmosphere. She stated that the public trust doctrine requires that the state act “to protect what it holds in trust,” and it has a constitutional obligation to protect “natural resources held in trust for the common benefit of the people.”
Coastal screenshop from Children's Trust video
Our Children’s Trust supported this case and has backed clean air litigation on behalf of children in other states under the premise that children have a legal right to a healthy atmosphere and stable climate. Cases are still pending in North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Colorado. Appeals are pending  in Massachusetts and Oregon. Similar legal issues have been raised in the lawsuit filed in August in U.S. District Court in Oregon against the U.S. government by 21 youths from around the country with climate scientist, Dr. James Hansen, acting as guardian for his granddaughter, Sophie K. and future generations. Dr. Hansen’s declaration is chock full of charts and scientific arguments about why it is critical that the U.S. move away from fossil fuels. Although Hansen says glacial ice melt is slowing in Greenland, it is increasing exponentially in Antarctica, and parts of Antarctica will likely disappear. Hansen was once NASA’s top climate scientist, until he began speaking out too often about global warming.
In TRUST 350Our Children’s Trust offers a glimpse about why children are speaking up to protect the planet. This is from their Vimeo channel. In its longer video, A Climate of Trust, James Hansen and Andrea Rodgers, the Western Environmental Law Center attorney who represented the Washington state petitioners, discuss why these environmental lawsuits matter.

Last week, a group of dinosaurs aka fossil fuel companies, asked to join the litigation on behalf of the U.S.A. Those intervenors would essentially be the American Petroleum Institute and Exxon, Mobil, BP, Shell, Koch Industries, etc., companies that all feel threatened by this litigation (and well they should be). Does President Obama really want to stand against children arm-in-arm with these folks right after saying “No” to tar sands?
I hope President Obama will invite Judge Hill to accompany him to France for the United Nation’s COP21 talks . Since Exxon had extensive knowledge about global warming since the 1980s, we hope the President won’t invite Exxon along.
Video and all screenshots: Courtesy of The Children’s Trust’s “Trust 350” video. All rights reserved.

For aNewDomain, I’m Terry Gardner.