Climate Law

Lawsuits seek to slow the tide of climate change but need their days in court

Those who understand climate change know that a little snow on the valley floor in Lane County doesn’t mean global warming isn’t happening. Since Congress and state legislatures have been slow to act, climate change activists have also been engaging in direct action and filing lawsuits to try to slow the rising temperatures, which lead to catastrophic wildfires, flooding and sea-level rise, among other catastrophes.

In Eugene, the Our Children’s Trust youth climate lawsuit is still battling in the legal system. Juliana v. United States was filed in federal court in Oregon in 2015 and argues the federal government has failed to adequately act against climate change. 

On Feb. 1, the Trump Administration again tried to block the teens and kids from their day in court, arguing in the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit that the youth can’t “demonstrate causation because climate change stems from a complex, world-spanning web of actions across all fields of human endeavor,” and they can’t connect flooding or drought in their neighborhoods to “any particular conduct by the government.” 

The feds also argued that the youths’ “alleged injuries” cannot be redressed because “a single district judge may not … seize control of national energy production, energy consumption and transportation in the ways” that would implement the remedies. 

Meanwhile, another set of climate cases is also active in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The counties of Marin, San Mateo and Santa Cruz, as well as the cities of Richmond, Santa Cruz and Imperial Beach are suing Big Oil and Big Gas in San Mateo v. Chevron to recover climate damages knowingly caused by oil and gas companies.

On Jan. 29, a slew of groups, scientists and states, including Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, filed friend of the court (amicus) briefs asking the court to affirm a district court decision to send the climate change damages cases back to the California state courts where they were originally filed. The AGs are from Oregon, California, Maryland, New York, Washington, Vermont, Rhode Island and New Jersey; they argued that the defendants “ignore the states’ broad authority and important role in addressing climate change.” 

The attorneys general and other amici argue in their briefs that the fossil fuel companies knowingly deceived the public about the climate change impacts their products have made worse and allege that the fossil fuel industry sought to manufacture doubt about climate change and minimize its risk. 

Richard Wiles, executive director of the Center for Climate Integrity says in a press release that “state courts are the right venue to try these cases, which simply seek to recover the costs of local climate adaptation measures. What the industry fears is justice, and then having to pay the costs of climate adaptation for every city and county with damages.”

Finally, on Feb. 4, four climate activists in Blackberry Township, Minnesota, closed safety valves on a crude oil pipeline belonging to the Canadian energy corporation Enbridge. The action mirrored previous efforts to shut down the flow of tar sands fossil fuel into the U.S. from Canada. 

Local attorney Lauren Regan and her nonprofit Civil Liberties Defense Center successfully argued before the Minnesota Supreme Court in a similar previous valve-turning case that the valve turners had a right to present a necessity defense at trial. In a necessity defense a defendant can defeat a criminal charge if the harm that would have resulted from following the law would have significantly exceeded the harm that results from breaking it.

Check out “Ultimate Necessity” on for background on all the climate cases. 

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