EUGENE, Ore. — A federal judge in Eugene, Oregon, is considering arguments about whether a lawsuit brought by a group of children and a leading climate scientist can go forward.
The plaintiffs’ lawsuit alleges that the federal government has known for more than 50 years that carbon pollution causes climate change, but it has failed to implement plans to phase out greenhouse gas emissions. Instead, government officials have promoted the development and use of fossil fuels, the plaintiffs allege.
The defendants — including the federal government and trade groups representing energy giants such as Exxon Mobil and BP — have asked the judge to dismiss the case, arguing that emissions policy should be determined by lawmakers and federal agencies, not by the court. They also argue they already comply with the federal Clean Air Act and the plaintiffs don’t have legal standing.
U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken heard arguments Tuesday and is expected to issue a ruling by November.
She could adopt, reject or modify an earlier ruling by U.S. Magistrate Judge Tom Coffin, who in March declined to dismiss the case, The Register-Guard reported Wednesday (http://bit.ly/2cEhG3Z).
The plaintiffs include 21 youths who were between the ages of 8 and 19 when the suit was filed last year, as well as climate scientist James Hansen. They are seeking a court decision that finds the government is violating their constitutional rights to life, liberty and property by allowing dangerous emissions to be released into the atmosphere.
They’re also seeking a court order that requires the government to create a plan to dramatically slash greenhouse gas emissions released by the burning of fossil fuels.
Julia Olson, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, told Aiken her clients are open to engaging in settlement discussions if it would not delay the outcome.
Avery McRae, an 11-year-old plaintiff from Eugene, said outside court that she was upset when people say she and other plaintiffs are too young to sue.
“I know that I love the Earth, and I know it’s being threatened by warming temperatures,” she said. “I know that I have a constitutional right to a stable environment.”
The federal case is among a series of lawsuits filed by youth plaintiffs working with Our Children’s Trust, a nonprofit environmental group based in Eugene.
Teens in other states have filed similar climate change lawsuits.
In Washington state, several young climate activists, including one who is a plaintiff in the federal Eugene lawsuit, have sued to force officials to adopt new rules to limit carbon emissions based on the best available science.
In May, a state judge ordered Washington to come up with a rule by the end of the year. Gov. Jay Inslee said at the time that court reaffirmed the need to do what the state already committed to. The state appealed the judge’s order in June.