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Young activists seek tougher action on climate change

Posted November 22

— Eight children are asking a Seattle judge to find Washington state in contempt for failing to adequately protect them and future generations from the harmful effects of climate change.

A King County Superior Court judge is hearing arguments Tuesday afternoon in the case brought by the petitioners, between 12 and 16 years old, who allege the state has violated its duties to take action to address climate change.

The petitioners' lawyer says a state rule adopted in September to cap emissions from large carbon polluters doesn't do enough to protect young people. They contend that the state is violating prior court orders by not doing more.

The state says in court documents that there's no basis for finding the Department of Ecology in contempt. Ecology complied with court orders by adopting its clean air rule requiring industrial carbon polluters such as power plants and refineries to reduce their emissions by an average 1.7 percent each year, Assistant Attorney General Katharine Shirey wrote in a response filed with the court Friday.

"Taken together all the things Ecology have done to date aren't protecting the rights of these kids, and that's why they need to do more," said Andrea Rodgers, an attorney representing the young petitioners.

The case is not about the clean air rule, Rodgers said, but about whether the state has fulfilled its constitutional and statutory duties to protect the fundamental rights of young people from the perils of climate change.

The case is part of a nationwide effort led by the Oregon-based nonprofit Our Children's Trust to force states and the federal government to take action on climate change.

The juvenile climate activists in Seattle brought the petition in 2014 asking the court to force state officials to adopt new rules to limit carbon emissions based on the best available science. They say the state has violated its duties under the state constitution and the legal principle called the public trust doctrine, which requires the government to protect shared resources.

In November, Judge Hollis Hill denied their appeal but affirmed some of the children's arguments, saying the state has an obligation to protect natural resources for future generations.

"Petitioners assert and this court finds, their 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 GHG's before doing so becomes first too costly and then too late," Hill wrote in November.

At the time, the judge noted that Ecology was already working on meeting that obligation by writing new rules for greenhouse gas emissions ordered by the governor.

The plaintiffs again asked the judge to step in after Ecology in February withdrew its proposed clean air rule to make changes. Ecology was in the process of writing new rules but Hill in April ordered the agency to proceed with its rulemaking and come up with a rule by the end of 2016.

The state's lawyer, Shirey, said in court documents that the court didn't direct Ecology to adopt any particular rule, nor did the court say what should or should not be in the rule. She also said that the plaintiffs' claims amount to a challenge of Ecology's clean air rule, which should be heard in Thurston County Superior Court.

"There's no dispute that they have not fulfilled their responsibility," Rodgers said.

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