Federal Lawsuit Youth Plaintiffs 2

Project Report:
Atmospheric Trust Campaign
- Explores and develops market-based solutions.


We support a network of youth, scientists, and experts from multiple disciplines, to bring about macro governmental action at the federal, state, local and global domestic levels that drives systemic market incentives and public policy and places our society on a scientific prescription for atmospheric health and climate stability.


During 2015 and into early 2016, Our Children’s Trust made definitive progress in our effort to secure the legal right to a healthy atmosphere and stable climate for all present and future generations. We secured two key and final decisions from courts in New Mexico and Washington. Each of these decisions represents a critical piece in the jurisprudence we are developing to secure science-based climate recovery planning at all levels of government. For the first time, these two decisions both declared that the state government in question has a constitutionally grounded public trust responsibility to preserve the atmosphere. Building on the decisions we obtained in 2014 that rejected many of the defenses raised by governments, reversed lower courts that initially dismissed our cases, and validated the science of climate change, we are now extremely well poised to expand on these powerful decisions to secure the legally mandated, science-based climate recovery action they envision. As we optimistically predicted last year, our cases are indeed now yielding “wins” that serve as precedent for courts in other jurisdictions.

Specifically, Our Children’s Trust accomplished the following in 2015 and early 2016:

In August, 2015, 21 young people from across the U.S., and Dr. James Hansen as guardian for all future generations, all supported by Our Children’s Trust, filed a landmark constitutional climate recovery lawsuit against the Federal Government, including the President and specific federal agencies, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon. The case is based on constitutional and public trust grounds. The Youth challenge the Federal Government’s aggregate actions that cause climate destabilization, including the extraction, development, production, transportation, export, import, and burning of fossil fuels to support an unsustainable consumptive culture.

The federal lawsuit asserts the federal government has violated the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property. It also claims the government failed to protect essential public trust resources by facilitating the exploitation of fossil fuels. The youth have asked the courts to order the federal government to stop promoting fossil fuels and to prepare and implement a science-based national climate recovery plan.

These young Plaintiffs challenge the federal government’s national fossil fuel programs, as well as the 1992 Energy Policy Act and the export permit for the proposed Jordan Cove LNG export terminal in Coos Bay, OR. Depending on the outcome of FERC's recent refusal to grant a permit for this terminal, this aspect of the case may or may not continue. Nonetheless, Plaintiffs seek to hold President Obama and various federal agencies responsible for their continued fossil fuel exploitation. Plaintiffs seek a court order requiring the President to immediately implement a national plan to decrease atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (“CO2”) to a safe level: 350 ppm by the year 2100. This case places indisputable climate science, economics, and technical data squarely in front of the federal judiciary, requesting an order that our government cease jeopardizing the climate system to the detriment of present and future generations.

Demonstrating the power and potential of the youth’s claims, the world’s largest fossil fuel industry associations, representing nearly all of the largest fossil fuel companies in the United States and beyond, have intervened in the case to thwart the youth’s efforts.

On April 8, 2016, the Court issued a ruling in the youth's favor that rejected all arguments raised by the government and fossil fuel industry in their Motions to Dismiss. The judge found that the constitutional and public trust rights the youth claimed do in fact exist in the law and that if the youth can prove with evidence what they say we can prove (which of course they can), that plaintiffs are entitled to relief. Thus, the youth overcame most of the largest legal hurdles on the way to a final decision that these youth, and all future generations, are constitutionally entitled to a stable climate, that the government has a public trust responsibility to restore the atmosphere and oceans to a healthy condition in accordance with current science, and that the government must conform its laws and regulations accordingly.

This decision will now be reviewed by District Court Judge Ann Aiken. We are optimistic that Judge Aiken will accept the decision of her colleague Judge Coffin. Thereafter, the next phase of the litigation will lead to the brining of climate science to the court, and also revelations about what the government and industry knew about climate change and for how long.

There was also incredible public turn-out for the hearing that resulted in the favorable decision above. Not only were all 21 of the youth plaintiffs in court before the judge (quite a sight, and quite unusual; neither the government nor the fossil fuel industry associations had any defendants represented in court), but there were also hundreds of students, teachers, families, and activists who lined up as early as 4:00 AM for a seat in one of the four courtrooms the court set aside for the arguments. The court made highly unusual arrangements to live-stream the arguments to three overflow courtrooms and to the U.S. District Court in Portland, where the court staff was so interested in the case, they asked for the live-stream to them as well. The power of such immense public support, in the courthouse and out on the courthouse steps, despite a rainy day, was more than palpable.

We are heartened by the unprecedented interest that has been demonstrated in the case. The following are samples of the press coverage of the March 9 hearing and the April 8 decision:

CNN: http://www.cnn.com/2016/04/11/opinions/sutter-climate-kids-update/

Associated Press: https://www.yahoo.com/news/climate-change-lawsuit-21-youths-235708057.html?ref=gs

The Nation: http://www.thenation.com/article/21-kids-are-suing-president-obama-over-climate-inaction/

Rolling Stone: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/why-young-americans-are-suing-obama-over-climate-change-20160312

The youth plaintiffs seek a landmark decision like that in Brown v. Board of Education (on racial equality). They ask the court to declare the fundamental rights of children and future generations to a stable climate system. The young plaintiffs also request that the Federal Government protect their constitutional rights by significantly reducing our nation’s CO2 emissions through implementation of a national science-based climate recovery plan. See more under “obstacles” below.

OCT supports youth efforts now pending in the state courts of OR, MA, PA and CO, all based on the scientific prescription for atmospheric health and climate stabilization (350 ppm by 2100). As mentioned above, in 2015 Our Children’s Trust’s legal team secured favorable state court judicial decisions including a major decision by the New Mexico Court of Appeals that found the atmosphere to be a constitutionally protected resource, and a Washington decision that ordered the state to undertake greenhouse gas emission rulemaking to increase protections for the atmosphere, based on constitutional public trust obligations to protect that resource. We are now working to ensure subsequent rulemaking in those states is science-based, and are building on these precedential cases in our other pending cases. We supported youth filing a new cased this year in PA, and our legal team continues the prosecution of pending actions in OR, MA, CO also. As a result of our state efforts, our youth plaintiffs also secured private meetings with the governors of Oregon and Washington to explain their claims and to request their support. To capitalize on all of these state accomplishments, we must maintain our strong stance in our pending state actions, at various levels of trial and appeal, all of which have been vigorously defended to date. Additional actions are expected soon to be filed in ME, FL, HI and others are in active development in NY, MT, MN.

In YouCAN (Youth Climate Action Now), OCT trains and supports youth in civic engagement with local government as advocates for science-based emission reduction and climate recovery planning. Youth participate directly in local government: petitioning for adoption of local climate recovery plans, testifying at public hearings, working with officials on the subject of carbon emission reduction efforts, and educating their communities. We piloted YouCAN successfully in Eugene, OR, in July 2014, Eugene’s City Council adopted the youths’ proposed ordinance: the first science-based climate recovery ordinance meaningfully protecting the atmosphere.

Youth, partner organizations and schools around the country and in Canada have expressed great interest in replicating this successful model in their communities. Thus, we are now inspiring and replicating YouCAN in other communities around the Pacific Northwest.

In 2015 at the grassroots level, our YouCAN program is launching in Seattle, WA, and Corvallis, Portland, Bend and Ashland, OR, where we are supporting YouCAN chapters that are replicating efforts like our successful effort in Eugene, OR that resulted in the first science-based climate recovery ordinance in the country. In furtherance of that effort, this year we produced an inspiring short documentary youth training film, http://ourchildrenstrust.org/trust-climate-kids, hosted a regional training for youth throughout the Pacific Northwest youth, produced related training materials, and supported youth in advocating before local government officials for science-based climate planning in their local communities.

OCT supports teams of lawyers advancing public trust-based legal actions on behalf of youth in several countries. We are working with and supporting youth and lawyers in India, England, Pakistan, Canada, France, Ukraine, Uganda, Australia, Belgium, the Netherlands, and the Philippines to build and advance coordinated legal actions in those countries. Actions are planned to be filed in Pakistan and India by mid-2016, with others also following in 2016.

OCT has secured strong press coverage and increasing public awareness of the urgency of the climate crisis. See below under dissemination of results.


Our work will secure governmental responsibility to implement systemic science-based climate recovery policy at all levels of government. Such policy will drive and foster development of market based solutions to the global atmospheric and climate crisis by securing a necessary realignment of government policy such that financing, taxing, incentive and related government policies favor the economics of and innovation in the area of atmospheric and climate recovery solutions as opposed to the current favoring of atmospheric and climate disruptive practices.


Our project has local, state, federal and global domestic features. Specifically, our efforts are advancing the legal right to a healthy atmosphere and stable climate in multiple jurisdictions and forums. Each jurisdiction has the opportunity to serve as a model for the next, and in fact our progress to date is demonstrating just that. Our successful local level work that resulted in Eugene, OR adopting the first-in-the-nation science based climate recovery ordinance is serving as a model for other grassroots community efforts and is realigning Eugene's government policies and practices. The administrative and judicial decisions we have secured at the state, federal and global domestic levels to date all serve as models for each successive action as the jurisprudence of the legal right to a healthy atmosphere and stable climate advances and related market based approaches take hold.

Information Dissemination

Building on past coverage of our efforts on NPR, Aljazeera America, and The Nation, Grist, “Moyers & Company” and Thom Hartmann’s “The Big Picture”, our work was featured in 2015-2016 in hundreds of media piece, including more than 25 in November, 2015 alone. See http://ourchildrenstrust.org/OCT-Press-Room. Feature television spots focused on our work appeared on PBS Weekend Newshour, The Nation, MSNBC, the CNN network, and on the Bill Moyers’ final Moyers & Company interview. See http://ourchildrenstrust.org/press/video-radio. In late December, 2015, on the first day of the Paris Climate Talks, two of our youth plaintiffs elevated our landmark federal climate lawsuit to the top of the Paris Climate Talks news cycle with features on CNN’s homepage (Meet the Teen Suing Obama Over Climate Change: Xiuhtezcatl Martinez) and Bloomberg.com (ten top attendees at the Paris talks: one is federal youth plaintiff Victoria Barrett).

Project Link www.ourchildrenstrust.org

Amount Approved
$10,000.00 on 6/5/2015 (Check sent: 7/13/2015)

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Our Children's Trust  

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Posted 3/24/2015 9:48 AM
Updated   2/23/2017 12:20 PM

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Youth Plaintiffs at Federal Court #2
Youth Plaintiffs at Federal Court #2

Dr. James Hansen and Youth Plaintiff
Dr. James Hansen and Youth Plaintiff

Press at March 9 Hearing
Press at March 9 Hearing

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