Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, pictured in the foothills of north Boulder, Colorado, on 11 August 2016, is one of the young plaintiffs in the climate case. Photo: Helen H. Richardson / The Denver Post / Getty Images

By Karina Brown
15 June 2017

(Slate) – America is out of the Paris Agreement, and although that might be the best option for the future of the Earth, all things considered, it still is a terrible indicator of our prospects for fighting climate change. Currently, cities and states are individually signing back onto the agreement, which might be the best shot of American action, at least for now. But there’s still one small but possible way the U.S. could be forced to take climate change seriously while Trump is in office: if the two dozen kids pushing a landmark environmental lawsuit against the federal government for imperiling their future by causing climate change win their case.

Since Trump took office, Jeff Sessions’ Department of Justice has been trying to squelch the case using the same argument originated by government lawyers under the Obama administration: that climate change simply isn’t the government’s problem. The legal strategy deployed by the new administration hasn’t changed—the same lawyer who represented the government in the Obama years is still arguing the case under Trump. But while the case’s importance has been elevated, the new administration is displaying the same distaste for transparency and casual discarding of legal norms that are becoming sadly standard.

In 2015, two dozen kids sued the U.S. federal government, claiming it violated their civil rights by failing to safeguard a livable Earth for future generations. The suit claimed that the government has known since at least the 1960s that climate change is real, that it’s caused mostly by humans’ use of fossil fuels, and that it deliberately covered up that certainty. When the suit was first filed, it was directed at then-President Barack Obama. And federal prosecutors were still under Obama’s direction when they filed the initial reply to the lawsuit—just one week before the inauguration. The prosecutors’ assessment graphically described the dire reality of climate change and seemed designed to make it extremely hard for the Trump administration to use climate change denial as a defense.

When Donald Trump took office, he automatically became the defendant in the case, adding a new dimension. Observers wondered how an administration led by a man who has called climate change a hoax would respond to the suit, especially given the trap the Obama administration had set up.

At a hearing in April, U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin read aloud from the Obama-era government’s answer to the plaintiff’s complaint. He listed a mere fraction of the dozens of claims from the lawsuit that the government, under Obama, had agreed were true. Here is a sampling:

You further admit that: Climate change is damaging human and natural systems, increasing the risk of loss of life, and requiring adaptation on larger and faster scales than current species have successfully achieved in the past, potentially increasing the risk of extinction or severe disruption for many species; that current and projected atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations, and this threat will mount over time as greenhouse gases continue to accumulate in the atmosphere and result in ever greater rates of climate change; that human activity is likely to have been the dominant cause of observed warming since the mid-1900s and that climate change is likely to increase cancer, cardiovascular disease, stroke, toxic exposures, mental health and stress disorders.

Judge Coffin then asked whether the Department of Justice, now under the authority of Sessions and Trump, planned to walk back everything it had admitted in the case under the previous administration.

“Has the government officially retreated from any of these admissions?” the judge asked. “Are these admissions not binding on the government, after having been made in the government’s answer?”

The government’s lawyer in the case, Sean Duffy, the same Department of Justice attorney who signed the answer from which the judge had just read aloud, said he didn’t know.

“The administration certainly could move to amend its position,” Duffy said. “However, we haven’t received guidance from above. So we don’t know yet.” [more]

The Trump Response to the Kids’ Climate Lawsuit Isn’t Denial. It’s Evasion.


  1. Anonymous said...

    It's not evasion either. It's a planetary death sentence - and the world, particularly Americans, are sitting back and letting this monster do this. Personally, I don't care if he's President - he has absolutely no right whatsoever to commit the nation and the world to extinction. Nobody does.  


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