18 California Kids Sue EPA For “Allowing” Dangerous Emissions

“We feel a constant worry about the future, and…no one is moving fast enough.”

A child with light brown skin and pom poms in her hair on her dads shoulders, with a sign.

A three-year-old at a climate change protest in Los Angeles, California with a sign that says "My Future is In Your Hands"Ronen Tivony/SOPA/Zuma

This story was originally published by the Guardian and appears here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration. 

Eighteen California children are suing the US Environmental Protection Agency over its role in the climate crisis.

In a lawsuit filed on Sunday, plaintiffs between the ages of eight and 17 allege the federal body “intentionally” allows dangerous levels of planet-heating emissions from vehicles, power plants, fossil fuel wells and other pollution sources, despite knowledge that doing so endangers children’s health and welfare.

“We are running from wildfires, being displaced by floods, panicking in hot classrooms during another heatwave. We feel a constant worry about the future, and all around us no one is moving fast enough,” Noah, a 15-year-old plaintiff, said in a statement. (The legal filings and statements omit minors’ last names.) “The constitution guarantees every American the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness including and especially children.”

The suit, Genesis B v EPA, is the latest in a series of youth-led constitutional climate cases brought by the non-profit law firm Our Children’s Trust. In August, the firm notched a landmark win in Montana, when a judge ruled in favor of plaintiffs who alleged the state’s pro-fossil fuel policies violated their right to a clean and healthful environment, as laid out in the state’s constitution.

Another federal suit filed by Our Children’s Trust, 2015’s Juliana v United States, is also pending. In June, a US district court ruled in favor of the youth plaintiffs, allowing that their claims can be decided at trial in open court; a trial date has yet to be announced.

The Juliana case names an array of government actors as defendants, including the president and several other agencies and officials. The new suit, by contrast, names just three defendants: the United States federal government, the EPA, and its administrator, Michael Regan.

“There is one federal agency explicitly tasked with keeping the air clean and controlling pollution to protect the health of every child and the welfare of a nation – the EPA,” Julia Olson, founder and chief legal counsel of Our Children’s Trust, said in a statement. “The agency has done the opposite when it comes to climate pollution and it’s time the EPA is held accountable by our courts for violating the US constitution and misappropriating its congressionally delegated authority.”

The EPA’s negligence began when the agency was founded more than 50 years ago, the lawsuit alleges.

“Rather than use its congressionally delegated authority to protect air quality and the climate system … EPA forged an unlawful path by authorizing levels of climate pollution that have destabilized the very foundation, and ordered liberty, of Children’s lives, including Plaintiffs’,” the lawsuit says. “In so doing, EPA has exceeded its delegated authority and injured the lives, health, welfare, safety, security, dignity, happiness, potential for longevity, and an open livable future of Plaintiffs, as Children, in violation of the United States Constitution.”

An EPA spokesperson, Shayla Powell, said the agency could not comment on the lawsuit specifically because it is pending litigation, but that the agency under President Biden was “committed to using the full scope of its authorities to protect communities and reduce the pollution that is driving climate change.” Last month, she noted, the body also established the first ever federal advisory committee composed exclusively of youth and dedicated to the environment.

“EPA appreciates that young people are sounding the alarm on climate change,” she said.

Michael Burger, executive director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University, said the suit marked an “interesting” development.

“The new case demonstrates the ongoing commitment of young people to seek climate justice, and to hold the federal government’s feet to the fire, through the courts,” he said.

More Mother Jones reporting on Climate Desk

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