September 5, 2017
On Tuesday, as ash from local wildfires rained down on the city of Seattle and an unprecedented hurricane threatened the Atlantic coast, the Washington Court of Appeals issued an unpublished opinion in Foster v. Ecology, the climate change case brought by youth against the State of Washington’s Department of Ecology (“Ecology”). The opinion reversed a May 2016 Superior Court decision granting relief from an earlier judgment that affirmed Ecology's denial of a petition for rulemaking, but is of little consequence since Ecology already did what is was court ordered to do. Importantly, the November 2015 decision that established Ecology’s legal duties to protect the rights of young people from climate change remains in full force and effect
December 19, 2016
Judge allows youth constitutional climate rights case to move forward against state of WA and Gov. Inslee
Seattle – Judge Hollis Hill ruled Monday that the youths who sued the Department of Ecology for failing to take action on climate change can again move forward, now with a constitutional climate rights claim that adds the state of Washington and Gov. Jay Inslee as defendants. The court granted the youth’s request “due to the emergent need for coordinated science based action by the state of Washington to address climate change before efforts to do so are too costly and too late.”
November 22, 2016
Climate youths head back to court, Gov. Inslee must justify noncompliance with court order
Youth petitioners returned to court on Tuesday, November 22, 2016 for a hearing where Gov. Jay Inslee’s administration was required show why it is not in contempt of the court’s prior order to protect the constitutional rights of the youth from climate pollution.
“In this global race against time, we must think bigger than what Gov. Inslee believes is politically possible,” said Julia Olson, executive director and chief legal counsel at Our Children’s Trust. “We must strive for what science requires. Reality and our children demand no less, for in the end, there is no negotiating with nature.”
July 25, 2016
WA Youths Provide Inslee Administration with Climate Science to Make Proposed Clean Air Rule Comply With Law
On behalf of youth climate activists who secured an unprecedented court order directing the Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology) to issue a rule regulating greenhouse gas emissions by the end of the year, attorneys Andrea Rodgers (WELC) and Julia Olson (OCT) submitted comments asking Ecology to bring its proposed Clean Air Rule into compliance with the law and the court orders obtained in the case. As part of their comments, the youths presented Ecology with a blueprint on how to put Washington on a path towards climate stability.
July 14, 2016
Inslee Administration to hold Public Hearings on the Proposed Clean Air Rule that Defies Court Order
Youth plaintiffs will attend a hearing to stand up for their rights
WHAT: Washington Department of Ecology will hold two hearings on their proposed Clean Air Rule. The hearings will allow the community to submit oral and written comments and ask questions about the rule.
WHEN: Thursday, July 14, 2016, 6:00 p.m. PST
WHERE: The Red Lion Hotel, 2300 Evergreen Park Dr. SW, Olympia, Washington 98502
*Another hearing was held in Spokane on July 12, 2016.
WHY: The Inslee administration’s revised Clean Air Rule defies an unprecedented May 16, 2016 court order issued by King County Superior Court Judge Hollis R. Hill, and fails the children of Washington. Eight young plaintiffs brought a climate change case against the Washington Department of Ecology for its persistent refusal to implement science-based carbon pollution limits.
June 16, 2016
In an act betraying the youth of Washington, “green” Gov. Jay Inslee’s administration appealed a Washington Superior Court decision ordering his administration to issue a rule limiting greenhouse gas emissions by the end of the year. Inslee published an op-ed touting his climate record in The Hill with no mention of the case or his administration’s anti-environment appeal of the decision.
Inslee’s appeal of the youth win in court comes just six weeks after his office and his campaign praised the decision, and two weeks after the June 1, 2016 rollout of his proposed Clean Air Rule, supported by the fossil fuel and aluminum industries.
June 1, 2016
The Inslee administration released its revised Clean Air Rule that defies an unprecedented May 16, 2016 court order issued by King County Superior Court Judge Hollis R. Hill, and fails the children of Washington. Judge Hill ordered the state to adopt a rule “to limit greenhouse gas emissions in Washington” by the end of the year.
The proposed Clean Air Rule, however, is based on outdated emissions data and only requires emissions reductions of a mere 1.7 percent annually, completely disregarding current science that would put Washington on a path toward climate stability.
April 29, 2016
In a surprise ruling from the bench in the critical climate case brought by youths against the State of Washington's Department of Ecology (“Ecology”), King County Superior Court Judge Hollis Hill ordered Ecology to promulgate an emissions reduction rule by the end of 2016 and make recommendations to the state legislature on science-based greenhouse gas reductions in the 2017 legislative session. Judge Hill also ordered Ecology to consult with the youth petitioners in advance of that recommendation. The youths were forced back to court after Ecology unexpectedly withdrew the very rulemaking efforts to reduce carbon emissions the agency told the judge it had underway. This case is one of several similar state, federal, and international cases, all supported by Our Children’s Trust, seeking the legal right to a healthy atmosphere and stable climate.
April 6, 2016
The youth petitioners in a precedent-setting case over climate disruption in Washington state asked the court to step in yet again after the state Department of Ecology withdrew its proposed rule to reduce carbon emissions. By withdrawing the proposed rule, Ecology demonstrated it is unable or unwilling to fulfill its legal responsibilities absent a court order directing it to do so in a timely manner.
In the youths’ case, Judge Hollis R. Hill determined the state has a “mandatory duty” to “preserve, protect, and enhance the air quality for the current and future generations.” The court held that Ecology was working toward fulfilling its constitutional and statutory responsibilities because it was developing the Clean Air Rule. With Ecology’s withdrawal of the proposed rule, the agency's continued failure to protect the youths' rights indefinitely is assured and its legal violations ongoing.
February 26, 2016
The Washington Department of Ecology withdrew its proposed rule to reduce carbon emissions in the state. The rule was supposed to remedy a lawsuit brought by eight youth petitioners against the state of Washington, in which Judge Hollis R. Hill declared "[the youths’] very survival depends upon the will of their elders to act now, decisively and unequivocally, to stem the tide of global warming…before doing so becomes first too costly and then too late."
"This is incredibly devastating to us, because we spent a lot of time and energy working on our lawsuit, and it feels like no one cares at all about our futures," said Wren Wagenbach, a youth petitioner in the case. "We are so shocked that Ecology made the decision to withdraw the rule that Governor Inslee directed them to do! We can't understand this at all,” said youth petitioners Lara and Athena Fain.
November 19, 2015
King County Superior Court Judge Hollis R. Hill issued a groundbreaking ruling in the unprecedented case of eight youth petitioners who requested that the Washington Department of Ecology write a carbon emissions rule that protects the atmosphere for their generation and those to come.
In a landmark decision, Judge Hill declared “[the youths’] very survival depends upon the will of their elders to act now, decisively and unequivocally, to stem the tide of global warming…before doing so becomes first too costly and then too late.” Highlighting inextricable relationships between navigable waters and the atmosphere, and finding that separating the two is “nonsensical,” the judge found the public trust doctrine mandates that the state act through its designated agency “to protect what it holds in trust.” The court confirmed what the Washington youth and youth across the nation have been arguing in courts of law, that “[t]he state has a constitutional obligation to protect the public’s interest in natural resources held in trust for the common benefit of the people.”
“It’s incredible to have the court finally say that we do have a right to a healthy atmosphere and that our government can’t allow it to be harmed,” said 13-year-old petitioner Gabriel Mandell. “This ruling means that what the Department of Ecology does going forward in its rulemaking has to protect us, the kids of Washington, and not just us, but future generations too, like my children and those to come. Now they can’t decide to protect short-term economic fears and ignore us because we have constitutional and public trust rights to a stable climate!”
The court validated the youths’ claims that the “scientific evidence is clear that the current rates of reduction mandated by Washington law. . . cannot ensure the survival of an environment in which [youth] can grow to adulthood safely.” The judge determined that the State has a “mandatory duty” to “preserve, protect, and enhance the air quality for the current and future generations,” and found the state’s current standards to fail that standard dramatically for several reasons.
November 3, 2015
Young Washington citizens sat in a packed King County courtroom and watched as their attorney, Andrea Rodgers gave a stunning and impassioned argument to the court as she fought for her clients’ right to a healthy environment and safe climate. Judge Hollis Hill heard oral argument in the important case brought by seven young petitioners to address Washington Department of Ecology’s (Ecology) persistent refusal to set science-based carbon pollution limits.
This is the second time this year the petitioners have found themselves in a King County courtroom. In May, Judge Hill heard oral argument in the case and, based on the undisputed climate science, ordered Ecology to reconsider its first denial of the youths’ petition. Doubling down on obsolete science, Ecology denied the youths' petition a second time.
Today, the young petitioners sat stunned as counsel for Ecology told the court “I do not know if there is an inherit right for a healthful environment” and proceeded to tell the court that it was up for the legislature to decide. Ecology was steadfast in their position that they are not required to regulate carbon dioxide emissions based on the current science.
August 25, 2015
Young Washington citizens filed a response with the King County Superior Court, to the Washington Department of Ecology’s persistent refusal to grant their petition for rulemaking, filed more than one year ago, requesting that Ecology set carbon emissions targets based on current climate science. Despite the King County Superior Court’s June 23rd order mandating the state to reconsider its first denial of the youths' petition in light of the science presented by the youths the Washington Department of Ecology denied the youths' petition for a second time.
“By denying these young people’s petition for science-based rulemaking for a second time, Ecology continues to kick the climate can down the road and commits only to carbon dioxide emissions targets that it acknowledges are inadequate to put the state of Washington on a path toward climate stability,” said Andrea Rodgers, the attorney with Western Environmental Law Center representing the youths.
The youths argue to the court that more delay in resolving their legal claims will lock in the infringement of their fundamental rights. They make the valid point that the climate system and their future cannot afford more politics as usual. Given the irreversible consequences of further government action not grounded in the current climate science, these young people ask the court to impose a remedy that will require science-based climate action within a time frame that matters for their future.
July 8, 2015
Eight youth petitioners will meet with the head of the Washington Department of Ecology (“Ecology”) to discuss potential settlement options in their climate change case. On June 23, 2015, in a landmark decision, King County Superior Court Judge Hollis Hill ordered Ecology to reconsider their climate change petition asking for carbon dioxide reductions based upon best available science. The court ordered Ecology to report back by today, July 8, 2015, as to whether they would promulgate the proposed rule. However, the youth petitioners have agreed to a 30-day extension so that the parties can engage in settlement negotiations.
Ecology has committed to have Director Maia Bellon and the agency’s director of air quality meet in person with the eight petitioners and their attorney this month to discuss a potential settlement. The petitioners have invited Gov. Inslee to attend the meeting, and await a formal response from his office.
June 23, 2015
In a no-nonsense decision that calls out bureaucratic delay in the face of urgent and dire climate consequences, a judge in our Washington case just sided with the 8 youth plaintiffs, and ordered the state to reconsider its denial of the youth’s petition for emission reductions in accordance with current science. The judge ordered the state to consider the youth’s scientific evidence, and to notify the judge of its intentions in just two short weeks. Please read the 4-page decision and press release.
Importantly, by ordering the state to consider the youth’s scientific evidence, put forth by Dr. Pushker Kharecha, climate scientist with James Hansen at Columbia University Earth Institute, the court has ordered the state to respond to the need to bring carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere to below 350 ppm by 2100. Doing so, this court gives Washington the opportunity to be the first state to regulate its emissions in a way scientifically calculated to truly stabilize our climate.
The State must notify the court whether it will amend or affirm it’s initial denial of the youth’s petition in face of the court’s order, and the youth’s scientific evidence.
Congratulations to the strong youth of Washington and our outstanding Western Environmental Law Center attorney leading the Washington case, Andrea Rodgers.
May 15, 2015
Andrea Rodgers of the Western Environmental Law Center, gave an all-star performance in court today on behalf of her 8 youth clients, all of whom were in attendance sitting with her at counsel’s table. The youth plaintiffs left the courtroom energized and excited about their case. The court was engaged and said she would let the parties know if she needed any further argument on the matter and would carefully review the record in the case. Today, our youth partners saw our constitutional democracy in action and it was awesome!
March 16, 2015
Eight young citizens of Washington state filed their opening brief in their climate change case, Zoe & Stella Foster v. Washington Department of Ecology, to King County Superior Court. The young petitioners are appealing the Washington Department of Ecology’s denial of their request that the Department of Ecology (“Ecology”) promulgate a rule that would limit carbon dioxide emissions in Washington according to what scientists say is needed to protect our oceans and our climate system.
“Under the law, the people of this state, including the kids who have brought this case, have a fundamental right to a healthy environment,” said Andrea Rodgers of the Western Environmental Law Center, attorney for the youth petitioners. “Faced with the increasing harms posed by climate destabilization and ocean acidification, the young people brought this lawsuit to vindicate this right on behalf themselves and future generations.”
September 15, 2014
Eight young citizens of Washington State filed a case in King County Superior Court challenging the Washington Department of Ecology’s denial of their request that the Department of Ecology (“Ecology”) promulgate a rule that would limit carbon dioxide emissions in Washington according to what scientists say is needed to protect oceans and our climate system.
August 19, 2014
Washington youth asked the Department of Ecology to implement a rule that would ensure carbon dioxide emissions are reduced at levels scientists say are needed to protect the oceans from acidification and the climate system from further disruption. In response, the Director of Ecology wrote: "I appreciate the concern and desire of the youth petitioners to reduce GHG emissions for improving the environment for themselves and future generations. However, Ecology denies your petition for rulemaking in favor of its current approach to reducing GHG emissions."
Unfortunately, that "current approach" does not ensure that annual CO2 emission reductions are on track with the scientific prescription for climate recovery. The math needs to add up. Andrea Rodgers, the youth's attorney, will review the decision and work with the young people on next steps to ensuring Washington is meeting its constitutional public trust obligations to Washington's children and future generations.
June 17, 2014
Youth petitioners filed a petition for rulemaking to the Washington State Department of Ecology requesting that the Department make recommendations to the legislature to update the State’s current emission limits and to implement these limits, in order to put Washington on the global climate stabilization trajectory. The petitioners urged the Department to acknowledge and apply the best available climate science, which requires that we return global atmospheric CO2 concentrations to 350 ppm in order to stabilize the climate for present and future generations. The Department’s obligations are both statutory, reiterated in a recent Executive Order, and constitutional, under the Public Trust Doctrine.
December 16, 2013
The Washington Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's dismissal of the case but left open a door for future challenges under the State Constitution.
November 18, 2013
The Washington Court of Appeals considered the case without oral argument, after the Washington Supreme Court transferred the case to the Court of Appeals for an initial ruling. We are currently awaiting that decision.
November 26, 2012
Seven young petitioners and their guardians filed their final brief before the Washington Supreme Court asking it to reverse a lower court's dismissal of their case to protect public trust resources of the state. Read the press release here.
September 28, 2012
Attorneys for the defendants filed the State's opposition brief, denying the government's public trust responsibility to protect the atmosphere and take action to address the climate crisis.
August 8, 2012
Attorney Greg Costello with the Western Environmental Law Center submitted an amicus brief on behalf of top law professors from around the country supporting youth plaintiffs' petition for direct review and their atmospheric trust claim.
July 30, 2012
Youth petitioners filed their opening brief of their appeal to the Washington Supreme Court.
Several faith-based groups submitted a brief as amici curiae supporting youth plaintiffs' petition for direct review. In the brief the groups argue that the inequities of climate change threaten human rights and that international human rights law is applicable in the youth plaintiffs' atmospheric trust case.
April 13, 2012
Plaintiffs filed the Statement of Grounds in their petition for direct review by the Washington Supreme Court. The Statement was accompanied by an expert declaration from Dr. James Hansen supporting the petition expressing the urgent need for immediate action:
Unless arrested by effective and immediate action, climate change will produce calamitous consequences for humanity and nature alike, as tipping points are reached and points of no return are crossed. . . . the failure to commence CO2 reductions without further delay . . . would consign our children and their progeny to a very different planet, one far less conducive to their survival.
The state moved to strike Dr. Hansen's declaration, but the Washington Supreme Court denied their motion.
Plaintiffs filed a petition for direct review of the trial court's decision to the Washington Supreme Court.
Hearing on the State’s motion to dismiss. The trial court granted the government’s motion to dismiss in without issuing an opinion in support of the decision.
The State of Washington filed an answer, which included the following admissions:
Human activities, including the emissions of GHG, very likely caused most of the observed global warming over the last 50 years, accelerated warming, if continued, is projected to affect many of Earth’s human and natural systems.
Scientific projections indicate that people around the world will be increasingly affected by changes in climate.
Scientific projections indicate that increasing GHG concentrations in the atmosphere are projected to change the climate which would impact human beings’ natural environment and that identifying the optimal timeline to reduce emissions and address impacts is important to minimizing the impacts.
OCT's partner Attorneys in Washington, Andrea Rodgers-Harris and Richard Smith, are considering the full list of state admissions and preparing the next phase of action.
May 4, 2011
Complaint was filed against the Governor's Office in the State of Washington, the Department of Ecology, the Commissioner of Public Lands and the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife.