Local News

Raleigh teen challenges state inaction on climate change

Posted November 13, 2015 5:32 p.m. EST
Updated November 13, 2015 10:00 p.m. EST

— An eighth-grader at Ligon Middle School in Raleigh isn't old enough to vote but is taking on the state of North Carolina.

Hallie Turner, 13, was in a Wake County courtroom instead of a classroom on Friday morning, hoping that a state judge would force the Environmental Management Commission to accept a petition she presented last year seeking to cut carbon dioxide emissions in North Carolina by 4 percent a year and an annual report on the state's efforts to meet that goal.

The commission rejected her petition, saying it was incomplete.

"Ms. Turner seeks the adoption of a rule that will ensure the integrity of North Carolina's climate," attorney Gayle Tuch said. "The harmful effects of climate change are already being felt here."

Turner is part of a nationwide youth movement taking on climate change. The Oregon-based nonprofit Our Children's Trust has been leading efforts to file lawsuits or administrative petitions in every state and against the federal government.

"This is an issue, it's not only affecting me, it's affecting future generations," Turner said. "I feel like my voice needs to be heard."

North Carolina was among dozens of states that last month challenged President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Environmental regulators say North Carolina should be allowed to create its own plan to address pollution instead of having a federal plan forced on it.

For the first time in almost two decades, North Carolina's air quality meets all federal clean air standards, and the state has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 25 percent since 2005 without federal intervention, Secretary of Environmental Quality Donald van der Vaart has said.

Turner said she's been passionate about climate change for years following a conversation at the family dinner table.

"I feel like my voice needs to be heard. I haven’t really ever let my age get in the way of it," she said. "There are definitely people who are like, 'You’re a kid. What do you know?' and that was always the frustrating thing for me since the beginning.was how people didn’t take me seriously."

Although she has legal support for her case, she said she understands what she's fighting for.

"I know our government has a responsibility to provide a safe, healthy and sustainable environment, and our leaders aren’t living up to their responsibilities," she said.

Superior Court Judge Michael Morgan said he plans to issue a ruling in the next two weeks, but he's already impressed by Turner.

"The court has a great amount of admiration for Hallie Turner and her maturity as a young adult, to be involved in a process to try and make a difference in the world," Morgan said, adding that his comments don't reflect any stance he is taking on the merits of her case.