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Kids’ Climate Lawsuit Targets Washington and its Governor

A judge has cleared the way for eight Seattle-area youths to move ahead with an expanded lawsuit that contends Washington has failed to take action on climate change.

December 21, 2016

A judge has cleared the way for eight Seattle-area youths to move ahead with an expanded lawsuit that contends Washington has failed to take action on climate change.

The Washington suit is one of several brought against states by children who say they're not doing enough to protect them from climate change. A U.S. District Court judge in Eugene, Oregon, ruled last month that a group of Oregon youths can move ahead with a similar case against the federal government.

Washington Superior Court Judge Hollis Hill’s ruling Monday follows a November hearing at which eight petitioners between the ages of 12 and 16 asked the court to find Ecology in contempt for failing to fulfill previous orders to make a plan to reduce state greenhouse gas emissions. 

Hill denied the contempt motion because Ecology recently issued a revised Clean Air Rule, but granted the youths' request to add claims that the state of Washington and Gov. Inslee violated the Washington state constitution and the public trust doctrine.

Under the new rule, roughly 70 Washington companies will have to cut annual carbon emissions by an average of 1.7 percent.

Industry groups and utilities fought an initial draft of the rule. It was revised to include some changes meant to ensure business growth and protect trade-vulnerable companies.

The kid climate activists say the rule doesn’t go far enough and reductions need to be steeper to stay within safe global carbon levels.

“We were hopeful that they [Ecology] would do something more substantive but that wasn’t done and that’s why we continue with this litigation,” said Andrea Rodgers, the lawyer representing the kids. “But our door is always open and we hold out hope that that branch of government will want to get something done that’s based on science.”

A statement from the governor's office said Inslee is working to address climate change.

“It’s important to note the Legislature has a role in addressing this issue, as well," the statement said. "The governor has and will continue to do all that’s in his authority to reduce emissions but to do what’s needed, we need engagement from legislators.”

The plaintiffs in the case are too young to vote so instead of waiting for action from elected officials, they’re taking the state to court.

“These kids are extremely frustrated that their governments have not come and fulfilled their responsibility to protect their rights to live in a healthy, clean environment,” Rodgers said. “They’re a very hopeful generation and they don’t see the barriers that adults see in solving this crisis. They see the technology that’s available and they see opportunities.”


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In this Nov. 22, 2016 file photo, petitioners Gabe Mandell, 14, center, and Adonis Williams, 12, look on as state Department of Ecology attorney Katharine G. Shirey speaks at a court hearing in Seattle.

Associated Press

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