A federal appeals court today declined to reconsider a landmark case brought by young people asking the U.S. government to phase out fossil fuels.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said a larger slate of its active judges would not rehear Juliana v. United States, commonly known as the kids’ climate case.
The decision marks another loss for the 21 young challengers who sued the government in 2015, arguing that its support for fossil fuels violated their constitutional right to a safe climate.
The challengers had sought a second chance after a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit dismissed the case last year, finding that it raised questions for the "political branches" of government, rather than the courts (Greenwire, Jan. 17, 2020).
The 2-1 dismissal wasn’t without sympathy. In the majority opinion, Judge Andrew Hurwitz wrote that the young challengers had presented "compelling evidence" that government policy on fossil fuels "may hasten an environmental apocalypse."
Today’s order could represent a disappointing conclusion for the Juliana challengers, who began their fight against the Obama administration in 2015.
While the youths could ask the Supreme Court to weigh in, some environmental lawyers have warned against such a move. They say a Juliana petition could allow the high court’s 6-3 conservative majority to poke holes in Massachusetts v. EPA, the 2007 case that found EPA could regulate greenhouse gas emissions as pollutants under the Clean Air Act (Climatewire, Nov. 18, 2020).
Julia Olson, executive director and chief legal counsel of Our Children’s Trust, an Oregon-based nonprofit group that represented the youths, hinted that the challengers could take their case to the Supreme Court in an emailed statement to E&E News.
"The Ninth Circuit failed to correct the legal errors in the panel decision. It’s now up to the U.S Supreme Court to protect the ability of our federal courts to interpret the U.S. Constitution and resolve controversies through a declaration of law," Olson said.
"The Ninth Circuit has deprived people in that Circuit the ability to seek a resolution of a real controversy with their government that is harming the health and safety of children," she added. "It goes against Supreme Court precedent and the precedent of every other Circuit. That travesty cannot stand."