A groundbreaking court case in which five teens sued the U.S. government over climate change was dismissed in May, reports Columbia Law School’s Climate Law Blog (June 2, 2012). The case, Alec L. et. al vs. Lisa P. Jackson, et. al, had been filed in 2011 against Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson and the heads of the Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Energy, and Defense departments. The plaintiffs claimed that the U.S. government had neglected to protect the atmosphere—a shared public trust—for future generations. To remedy this, the youth demanded that the defendants reduce carbon dioxide emissions by at least six percent per year starting in 2013.
According to The Atlantic (May 9, 2012), the climate change lawsuit was the brainchild of Oregon attorney Julia Olson, who had founded the organization Our Children’s Trust after watching An Inconvenient Truth while seven months pregnant. The lawsuit found its voice in Alec Loorz, a California teen who had established Kids vs. Global Warming at the age of 12—after watching the same documentary. “I think a lot of young people realize that this is an urgent time, and that we’re not going to solve this problem just by riding our bikes more,” explained Loorz.
Our Children’s Trust filed the injunction on behalf of the plaintiffs, using a successful suit filed on behalf of children in the Philippines as a model. The teens were represented pro bono by the law firm of Paul “Pete” McCloskey, a former Republican congressman and co-founder of Earth Day.
Both the defendants and the National Association of Manufacturers (which intervened in the case in April 2012) motioned for the case’s dismissal, and their wish was granted. At the end of May, U.S. District Judge Robert L. Wilkins dismissed the climate change lawsuit, saying that its claim was “grounded in state common law,” and fell outside of the federal court’s jurisdiction.
Still, the fight to mitigate rising temperatures, sea levels, and extreme weather isn’t over. Of the 12 state-level suits originally filed in coordination with Alec L. et. al, several are still active. According to NPR-collaborator StateImpact (July 16, 2012), suits in Texas and New Mexico have met with some success, however temporary it may be.