In the Toolkit --

Introduction

  • Guide to the Toolkit
  • Leagues in Action
  • I. Choosing a Role for Your League

    II. Grassroots Action Priorities

  • Climate Action
  • Price on Carbon
  • Our Children's Trust
  • Energy Efficient Buildings
  • Renewable Energy
  • Adapting to Climate Change
  • III. Basics of Climate Change

    IV. Engaging Individuals

  • Communicating About Climate Change
  • Preparing for a Meeting on Climate Change
  • Engaging Groups in Your Community
  • V. Promoting Public Policy

  • Community Action Models
  • Organizing For Community Action
  • Tips for Building Grassroots Support
  • League Action on Climate Change
  • International Action
  • VI. Resources

    OUR CHILDREN'S TRUST

    NEWUpdate on Our Children's Trust Climate Litigation. In August 2015, 21 young people from around the country brought suit against the Obama administration, arguing that the federal government is violating their constitutional rights by promoting the development and use of fossil fuels, despite knowing for decades that fossil fuels are destroying the climate system.

    On June 28, 2017, U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin issued an order in the climate lawsuit, setting a trial date for February 5, 2018, before U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken in Eugene OR. This order follows almost two years of objections and delays on the part of the defendants: the Obama, and now the Trump, administrations.

    Then on July 25, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a temporary stay on the lawsuit's proceedings while it considers a petition from the Trump administration that it independently review the November 2016 decision by Judge Aiken allowing the climate lawsuit to go to trial. (See a detailed timeline of key events in Juliana et al v. United States below.)

    The lawsuit is one of many initiated by Our Children's Trust and based on the Public Trust Doctrine.


    Our Children's Trust. This nonprofit advocacy organization supports young people in taking legal action to compel national and state governments to protect the earth's atmosphere and natural systems for future generations. The litigation is based on the public trust doctrine and argues that government has an affirmative fiduciary duty to take the steps necessary to stabilize the climate.

    The Public Trust Doctrine. This is a long-standing concept, going back to Roman times, that common resources, like air and water, belong to everyone. Government is a trustee of these natural resources and cannot give them away for private ownership but rather must safeguard them for the benefit of future generations. 

    In the U.S., public trust principles were affirmed in the 1892 U.S. Supreme Court decision Illinois Central Railroad Co. vs. Illinois. The Court ruled that the Illinois legislature had no power to convey title to the Chicago shoreline of Lake Michigan to the private railroad company because the state was not the owner of the property. Rather, the state held the shoreline property in trust for the public. More recently, in 2013, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, citing the public trust doctrine, ruled that Robinson Township was allowed to ban fracking in its jurisdiction to protect the town's water supplies.

    Traditionally, the courts have applied the public trust doctrine to such resources as rivers, coastal waterways, and shorelines. The legal actions brought by Our Children's Trust argue that the public trust doctrine applies to the atmosphere itself and that our children and all future generations have a legal right to a healthy atmosphere and a stable climate. 

    Atmospheric Trust Litigation (ATL). On Mother's Day 2011, Our Children's Trust supported 340 young people in filing lawsuits or petitions against all 50 states and the federal government for their failure to reduce GHG emissions. The plaintiffs asked the courts to require the defendants (the governments) to take all necessary actions to reduce carbon emissions in line with the best available climate science. The actions have progressed differently in each state. Information about the status of these state legal actions is available here.

    Federal Climate Lawsuit. In August 2015, 21 youths from around the country, joined by Dr. James Hanson, brought suit against the Obama administration, arguing that the federal government is violating the public trust doctrine by contributing to the destruction of the climate system, a vital natural resource for present and future generations.

    League Support. Delegates to the 2016 LWVUS Convention in Washington, DC, gave overwhelming approval to a resolution "that the LWVUS Board should consider signing onto an amicus brief with the 21 youth plaintiffs from Our Children's Trust." As it turned out, the LWVUS, joined by the LWV of Oregon, submitted its own amicus brief in the case. On November 10, Judge Aiken ruled in favor of the 21 youth plaintiffs. LWVUS and LWVOR are now planning to submit a new amicus brief in the next stage of the litigation.

    KEY EVENTS IN JULIANA ET AL v. UNITED STATES

    August 2015 — Twenty-one young people from around the country, joined by Dr. James Hanson, brought suit against the Obama administration, arguing that the federal government is violating their constitutional rights by promoting the development and use of fossil fuels, despite knowing for decades that fossil fuels are destoying the climate system. The plaintiffs seek a court order requiring the President to immediately implement a national plan to decrease atmospheric concentrations of CO2 to a safe level: 350 parts per million by 2100. 

    April 2016 — U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin of the U.S. District Court in Eugene, OR, rejected motions of the federal government and the fossil fuel industry to dismiss the case. The defendants objected to Judge Coffin's findings so the case was referred to U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken for review.

    September 13, 2016 — Judge Aiken heard oral arguments on the objections from lawyers representing all the parties.

    November 10, 2016 — Judge Aiken ruled in favor of the 21 youth plaintiffs, denying motions by the federal government and the fossil fuel industry to dismiss the lawsuit and determining that the case can move to trial. The judge's order cited the amicus brief submitted by LWVUS and LWVOR and also granted the motion of LWVUS and LWVOR to intervene as amici curiae in the case.

    January 13, 2017 — A few days before President Trump took office, government lawyers submitted a brief that conceded many of the allegations raised in the case. The introduction begins by saying,

    Federal Defendants admit that for over fifty years some officials and persons employed by the federal government have been aware of the growing body of scientific research concerning the effects of fossil fuel emissions on atmospheric concentrations of CO2—including that increased concentrations of atmospheric CO2 could cause measurable long-lasting changes to the global climate, resulting in an array of severe deleterious effects to human beings, which will worsen over time.

    January 24 — The plaintiffs submitted a letter requesting that the government retain all records relating to climate change, energy, and emissions as well as all communications between the government and the fossil fuel industry.

    February 9 — President Trump and his administration were named lead defendants in the case.

    March 7 — The Trump administration filed a motion requesting permission from Judge Aiken to appeal her November decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The administration also filed a motion to delay trial preparation until after its appeal is considered. In addition, the administration asked for expedited review of both motions, arguing that the plaintiffs' January 24 letter was overly burdensome.

    If Judge Aiken agrees and allows the government's appeal to go forward, it will be up to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to decide whether to actually accept the government's appeal. If the appeal is accepted, the court will hear from both sides as to whether Judge Aiken's decision to allow the case to proceed to trial was justified.

    March 10 — Fossil fuel defendants joined the Trump administration's request to appeal. Raising the "political question doctrine," they argue that the executive and legislative branches of government, not the judiciary, should resolve the issues in the case.

    The decision about whether or not to grant the appellate review rests with Judge Aiken, who has already made her position on the "political question" issue quite clear. In her November OPINION AND ORDER (p 16), she refers to the League's amicus brief, as follows --

    There is no need to step outside the core role of the judiciary to decide the case. At its heart, this lawsuit asks this Court to determine whether defendants have violated plaintiffs' constitutional rights. That question is squarely within the purview of the judiciary.

    The case shares some key features with Baker itself. In Baker, a group of voters challenged a statute governing the apportionment of state legislative districts . . . . Sixty years of population growth without legislative reapportionment had led to some votes carrying much more weight than others . . . . Here, the majority of youth plaintiffs are minors who cannot vote and must depend on others to protect their political interests. Thus, as amicus the League of Women Voters persuasively argues, the youth plaintiffs' claims are similar to the Baker claims because they are "rooted in a 'debasement of their votes' and an accompanying dimishment of their voice in representational government."

    May 1 — Magistrate Judge Coffin recommended denial of the March 7 motions of the Trump administration and fossil fuel defendants requesting that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals have the opportunity to review Judge Aiken's November 10, 2016, order before the trial even takes place. As Judge Coffin put it, "Any appeal would be premature." He also recommended denying the request to put the trial on hold, pending the outcome of the early appeal attempt.

    May 22-25 — The three fossil fuel defendants in the lawsuit (National Association of Manufacturers, American Petroleum Institute, and American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers) filed motions seeking the court's permission to withdraw from the climate lawsuit.

    June 8 — Judge Aiken issued an order denying the motions filed by the Trump administration and the fossil fuel defendants that sought to appeal her November 10 order that the climate lawsuit go to trial. Her June 8 order adopted the May 1 findings and recommendations issued by Magistrate Judge Coffin, who is overseeing the pretrial and discovery portion of the case.

    June 9 —The Trump administration filed a highly unusual writ of mandamus petition with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, asking the appellate court to step in and independently review the November 10 decision by Judge Aiken to allow the climate lawsuit go to trial. The administration also requested a stay on the lawsuit's proceedings until the appellate court makes a decision on the petition.

    June 28During a case management hearing, Magistrate Judge Coffin issued an order setting a trial date for February 5, 2018, before U.S. District Court Judge Aiken in Eugene OR. He also granted permission to the intervenor-defendants representing the fossil fuel industry to leave the lawsuit. 

    July 25 — A three-member panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a temporary stay on the lawsuit's proceedings while it considers the Trump administration's petition for an appellate court review of Judge Aiken's decision to allow the lawsuit to move to trial.

    July 28 — The panel ordered the attorneys representing the youth plaintiffs to file an answer to the Trump administration's petition for a review of Judge Aiken's decision. The plaintiffs have 30 days in which to respond. Judge Aiken has been invited to file an answer as well. In response, Julia Olson, Executive Director of Our Children's Trust, noted, "Our plaintiffs will demonstrate that they will be ready to go to trial on February 5, and the Trump administration's allegations of undue burden of discovery are unfounded." 

    RESOURCES

    Last updated: 8/2/2017