- For full chronology of legal action in Washington, click here.
Current legal action in the state of Washington is building upon recent achievements.
In a November 2015 ruling by King County Superior Court Judge Hollis R. Hill, the judge issued a groundbreaking decision finding “that current scientific evidence establishes that rapidly increasing global warming causes an unprecedented risk to the earth, including land, sea, the atmosphere and all living plants and creatures.” The court found that the youth plaintiffs’ “very survival depends upon the will of their elders to act now, decisively and unequivocally, to stem the tide of global warming by accelerating the reduction of emission of GHGs before doing so becomes first too costly and then to late.” The court agreed with the youth that “the current rates of reduction mandated by Washington law cannot achieve the GHG reductions necessary to protect our environment and to ensure the survival of an environment in which Petitioners can grow to adulthood safely.”
The court also made several significant legal holdings, including that the Washington Department of Ecology has a mandatory duty to “preserve, protect and enhance the air quality for the current and future generations.” The court also ruled that the public trust doctrine mandates that the state act through its designated agency “to protect what it holds in trust.” In other words, the court confirmed 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.” The court also recognized the youth’s fundamental right to a healthful and pleasant environment.
The court did not order the Washington Department of Ecology to undertake additional regulatory action because after an in-person meeting with Governor Inslee, he directed the agency to initiate a rulemaking process to cap and regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
Shortly thereafter, in April 2016 after Ecology had withdrawn its proposed rule, Judge Hill ordered the state to adopt a rule “to limit greenhouse gas emissions in Washington” by the end of the year. It was the nation’s first ever court order directing an agency to cap and regulate CO2 emissions. The court also ordered Ecology to make a recommendation to the legislature to update the state’s existing greenhouse gas emission limits. Ecology completed both tasks, which remain in effect in spite of a decision from the Washington Court of Appeals vacating the April 2016 order.
Moving forward, Our Children’s Trust attorneys are focusing on protecting the constitutional rights of young Washingtonians:
The State of Washington has a constitutional obligation to protect citizens’ inalienable and fundamental rights to life, liberty, property, equal protection, and a healthful and pleasant environment, which includes the right to a stable climate system. Many of Washington’s treasured natural resources are both essential to these constitutional rights but are also threatened by the impacts of climate change. Due to the state of Washington’s actions that cause climate change, it has a statutory, constitutional, and fiduciary duty to take action on behalf of the Youth Plaintiffs and all residents of the State of Washington to reduce and mitigate the adverse effects of climate change and ensure the protection of citizens’ constitutional rights.