Major progress for students suing the government on climate inaction

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Major progress for students suing the government on climate inaction

Colter Adams, Managing Editor

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On August 15, 2015, 21 students from Oregon sued the federal government for “failing to protect the earth’s natural resources for future generations.” This suit was later extended to fossil fuel companies and their heads, including Former Exxonmobil CEO and Trump’s selection for Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, who among others, has “known about the dangers of climate change since the 1960s and has successfully worked to prevent the government from taking action.”

After an attempt by the federal government and fossil fuel groups to dismiss the lawsuit as illegal because it “affected their business interests,” Oregon judge Ann Aiken issued an order to deny this motion.

Aiken read in her landmark ruling that the plaintiff’s claims were legally grounded, considering “It alleges that defendants’ (Oil corporations and the government’s) actions and inactions have so profoundly damaged our home planet that they threaten plaintiffs’ fundamental constitutional rights to life and liberty.”

The lawsuit was first drafted by Freshman college student Alex Loznak, a first generation Colombia attendee from seven generations of Oregon farmers.

“As recently as a year and a half ago, I was a fairly normal teenage kid,” Loznak said in a November Business Insider interview. “I was finishing up my senior year of high school, living on my family’s farm. I was worrying about my SATs and getting into college. And then my life really took off in a direction I couldn’t have imagined before.”

The legal action, based initially on clauses found in the 5th and 14th amendments (commonly used in civil rights cases), rapidly gained sponsorship and collaboration from other students in states as far away as Colorado and New York, organizations such as Our Children’s Trust (a group committed to empowering students to pursue environmental stewardship through legal action), and scientists, including world renowned professor and atmospheric physicist, Dr. James E. Hansen, who has joined the suit as a plaintiff.

Six of the twenty-one students currently suing the government for a failure to take action on Climate Change. Students have come together from all across the country to rally against the government and corporations “violating their constitutional rights to life, liberty and property.”

Loznak and the others do not plan to end their suit due to Obama’s departure, and plan to extend the suit immediately and legally to Trump once his administration takes office.

“Our elected leaders have really dropped the ball on this one, and they’re about to get so much worse,” said Loznak, referencing the Trump administration.

Despite a comparatively anti-climate action administration coming into power this January, the student-lead legal coalition has taken action swiftly with a court date set for sometime this summer or fall.

However this isn’t good enough for Judge Coffin, who is worried that this relatively late date could drag the trial out for up to five years, which he “won’t let happen.”

Instead, the team has taken a new route, calling for a hearing under oath for Tillerson, the soon to be Secretary of State.  The testimony is now set to be held a day before the inauguration, January 19. They plan to question the former Exxon CEO and American Petroleum Institute Chairman “about his company and industry contributing to global environmental damage,” according to the students’ lawyers.

Specifically they plan to question him on the comments made by a former Exxon Senior Scientist, who claims the company had found clear evidence that “the most likely manner in which mankind is influencing the global climate is through carbon dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels,” 11 years before NASA did, yet the research was never published.

According to the attorney for the plaintiffs, Julia Olson, “Rex Tillerson is one of the most knowledgeable executives in the fossil fuel world on the role of his industry alongside our federal government in causing climate change and endangering my youth plaintiffs and all future generations.”

David Buente, the attorney for the defendants, has refused to comment to any sources on any of these recent allegations or actions.

Updates regarding the case, currently listed as Juliana v. U.S., can be found here