Washington state judge rules that states have a “mandatory duty” to “preserve, protect, and enhance the air quality for the current and future generations”

In Washington state, King County Superior Court Judge Hollis R. Hill issued a groundbreaking ruling that the “scientific evidence is clear that the current rates of (emissions) reduction mandated by Washington law. . . cannot ensure the survival of an environment in which [youth] can grow to adulthood safely.” The judge determined that the State has a “mandatory duty” to “preserve, protect, and enhance the air quality for the current and future generations,” and found the state’s current standards to fail that standard dramatically for several reasons. The ruling is in a case of eight youth petitioners who requested that the Washington Department of Ecology write a carbon emissions rule that protects the atmosphere for their generation and those to come.

The youth petitioners first requested the state initiate greenhouse gas rulemaking procedures in June 2014. The state refused to do so in August of the same year. The youth appealed that refusal last September, and in a June 2015 decision highlighting the urgency of the climate crisis, the judge ordered the state to reconsider the youth’s petition taking into account current climate science. Then, in July 2015, the youth plaintiffs met with Gov. Inslee to plead their case personally. Just 11 days later, Gov. Inslee ordered the Department of Ecology to institute greenhouse gas rulemaking, as the youth had requested for more than a year. In August 2015, Ecology again refused the youths’ request for a science-based rulemaking because they had initiated similar rulemaking at Gov. Inslee’s request. Because Ecology also rejected the youths’ constitutional and public trust rights, the case, resulting in this decision, was argued in front of Judge Hollis Hill on November 3, 2015.

Our Childrens Trust pointed to several cases in the courts seeking the legal right to a healthy atmosphere and stable climate. “Cases brought by youth to protect the atmosphere are pending before trial judges in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Colorado, and before appellate courts in Massachusetts and Oregon. Significantly, similar legal issues are being considered in a federal lawsuit brought in August 2015 against the federal government by 21 young people from across the U.S. and Dr. James Hansen as guardian for all future generations, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon.”

“Just last week in that case,” the Childrens’ trust write, “the world’s largest fossil fuel industry representatives filed a request to intervene to protect their commercial economic interests in fossil fuel exploitation and to thwart the youth’s request for protection of their fundamental constitutional rights. The proposed intervenors, the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (representing members Exxon Mobil, BP, Shell, Koch Industries, and virtually all other major refiners and petrochemical manufacturers), the American Petroleum Institute (representing 625 oil and natural gas companies), and the National Association of Manufacturers, called the youth’s case “a direct threat to [their] businesses.”

A copy of the November 19th decision is available here.

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