Skip Navigation

Federal Appeals Court Dismisses Oregon Youths’ Climate Lawsuit

January 23, 2020

A three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit dismissed a lawsuit brought on behalf of 21 youths in an attempt to force the federal government to impose limits on fossil-fuel use.

A three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit dismissed a lawsuit brought on behalf of 21 youths in an attempt to force the federal government to impose limits on fossil-fuel use.

In Kelsey Cascadia Rose Juliana et al. v. The United States of America et al., (Juliana v. U.S.), 21 youths aged 10 to 21, represented by the advocacy group Our Children’s Trust, sued the federal government in a federal district court in Oregon. The plaintiffs argued the government violated their constitutional rights by encouraging the use of fossil fuels, which produce greenhouse gases the plaintiffs alleged damage the climate system, and thus violated their rights to life, liberty, and property.

When the case was initially filed in 2015, the Obama administration tried to have it dismissed, but the federal district judge denied the administration’s request.

The Trump administration inherited the Obama administration’s appeal of the district court’s decision then pending before the Ninth Circuit Court in 2017. The Ninth Circuit Court granted a temporary stay on the lawsuit, allowing the newly installed Trump administration to get up to speed and develop its own arguments in the case.

No Standing, Wrong Forum

In the appeal, the Trump administration argued, as the Obama administration had before it, the youths in the case lacked standing to sue the federal government for any purported harms from climate change, because any harms it might cause them were not unique or particularized to them, a criterion for standing to sue.

Calling the youths’ lawsuit “a direct attack on the separation of powers” within the federal government, the Trump administration argued even if the youths had standing to sue, the legislature and the executive, not the courts, were the appropriate branches of government for determining the nation’s energy policies and responses to climate change.

Court Affirms Defense Arguments

In a 2 to 1 decision, the three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court agreed on both points.

The youths lacked standing to sue the federal government, and the court didn’t have the authority to dictate climate policy, wrote Ninth Circuit judge Andrew Hurwitz, an Obama administration appointee, in his majority opinion.

The plaintiffs lacked standing to sue, said Hurwitz, because their injuries were not “concrete and particularized.”

“The central issue before us is whether, even assuming such a broad constitutional right exists, an Article III court can provide the plaintiffs the redress they seek—an order requiring the government to develop a plan to ‘phase out fossil fuel emissions and draw down excess atmospheric CO2,’” Hurwitz wrote. “Reluctantly, we conclude that such relief is beyond our constitutional power.

“Rather, the plaintiffs’ impressive case for redress must be presented to the political branches of government,” wrote Hurwitz. “[A]ny effective plan would necessarily require a host of complex policy decisions entrusted, for better or worse, to the wisdom and discretion of the executive and legislative branches.”

The panel sent the case back to the lower court for dismissal.

‘Rebuke of Climate Lawsuit Nonsense’

Even the most liberal court in the nation couldn’t stretch the law far enough to allow this flawed lawsuit to proceed, said James Taylor, director of the Arthur B. Robinson Center for Climate and Environmental Policy at The Heartland Institute, which publishes Environment & Climate News, in a press release.

“It is hard to imagine a more thorough rebuke of climate-lawsuit nonsense than having the ultraliberal Ninth Circuit rule against such lawsuits,” said Taylor. “These young puppets of the well-funded climate alarmism establishment had no standing to make their claims and no science to back them up.

“Even the nation’s most liberal judges made that clear today,” Taylor said.

‘Climate Activist Interests’

Meteorologist Anthony Watts, a senior fellow with The Heartland Institute, says the Juliana case and a similar lawsuit recently dismissed in New York were driven by climate special interests and relied on a false portrayal of the state of the climate.

“Just like the recent case against Exxon-Mobil in New York that was dismissed, this case by ‘climate concerned children’ was prompted and powered by climate activist interests,” Watts said. “In both cases, huge amounts of money, time, and legal expertise were thrown at these claims in an attempt to make a legal case that climate change has been harmful.

“Both cases were dismissed,” said Watts. “The bottom line is that while, yes, we’ve seen some changes in our climate over the past century, with improved crop yields, better health, reduced deaths from weather disasters, and increasingly less impoverishment worldwide, it is hard to argue that an increase of about 1 degree Centigrade has been detrimental to humanity.”

‘Plan to Eliminate Fossil Fuel’

In Juliana, the court rightly concluded it was beyond the judiciary’s constitutional authority to impose a nationwide climate policy ending fossil fuel use, said Sam Kazman, general counsel for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, in a statement.

“The court correctly understood that a lawsuit aimed at imposing a national plan to eliminate fossil fuel emissions and reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide would push the court far beyond its constitutional powers,” Kazman said. “It would require the court to substitute its judgment for that of Congress and the [presidential] administration on an unprecedented scale.

“However, it is unfortunate that, in coming to this conclusion, the court summarized the scientific evidence on climate change in such apocalyptic terms,” said Kazman. “The Department of Justice should have made clear that its failure to contest this evidence did not mean that the evidence was incontestable. Hopefully, future litigation on this issue will involve a more measured assessment of climate reality.”

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. (hsburnett@heartland.org) is a senior fellow at The Heartland Institute.

Internet Info

H. Sterling Burnett, “New York Court Dismisses Climate Lawsuit Against ExxonMobil,” Environment & Climate News, December 19, 2019: https://www.heartland.org/news-opinion/news/new-york-court-dismisses-climate-lawsuit-against-exxonmobil

Author
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. is a Heartland senior fellow on environmental policy and the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.
hsburnett@heartland.org

Related News & Opinion View All News