Fossil Fuel Lawsuit Pits Energy Groups Against Youth Activists

Major industry groups have asked to join the federal government in a climate-change lawsuit filed by a youth-activist group. The lawsuit puts the energy industry in the unusual position of entering a legal battle against teenagers and schoolchildren.

While a heated battle between major oil and gas companies and environmentalist groups has led to some unusual encounters over the years, a recent lawsuit is catching attention for its unique mix of parties involved.

Earlier this year climate scientist James E. Hansen and 21 members of the youth activist group Earth Guardians filed a lawsuit against the federal government. The suit accuses the government of violating the youths’ rights to life, liberty, property, and public-trust resources by permitting and advocating the development and use of fossil fuels, according to the complaint summary [PDF].

“It’s like the plot of a Disney movie: 21 kids with gumption pitted against the president of the United States,” Slate wrote of the lawsuit on Monday.

The 96-page filing, submitted to the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, demands that the court compel the government to put a plan in place that would lower carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere from 400 to 350 parts per million (ppm) by 2100, according to a report by EcoWatch.

“The federal government has known for decades that CO2 pollution from burning fossil fuels was causing global warming and dangerous climate change,” said Xiuhtezcatl Tonatiuh Martinez, one of the plaintiffs and the youth director of Earth Guardians.

The youths  have not only a prominent climate scientist on their side but also several powerful environmentalist nonprofits.

Our Children’s Trust (OCT), an Oregon-based nonprofit that has been involved in multiple climate-change-related lawsuits, organized the young plaintiffs and will be lead counsel in the litigation, according to a press release [PDF]. Representatives of major antitrust firm Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, LLP, and Wild Earth Advocates are also among those listed as attorneys for the plaintiffs.

Trade Groups Respond

The oil industry, meanwhile, is seeking to intervene in the case. The American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), the American Petroleum Institute (API), and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) have filed a joint request to stand as codefendants with the federal government, MSNBC reported.

“The impacts [of this lawsuit] could impair the interests of virtually the entire swatch of the NAM, AFPM, and API’s members,” the motion, acquired by the network, states. “For all these reasons, it is critical that they have the opportunity to intervene.”

Industry groups say the lawsuit is a “direct threat” to their industry and express concern that a decision in the plaintiffs’ favor could lead to increased production costs and hurt competitiveness abroad, according to the motion.

The groups say the fossil fuel industry is already under heavy regulations mandated by the Clean Air Act.

The complaint is now under review.

A few of the 21 youth activists taking part in the climate change lawsuit. (Our Children's Trust)

Eli Zimmerman

By Eli Zimmerman

Eli is studying Journalism at the University of Maryland. When not studying, he likes to relax with a nice book or a couple rounds at the local boxing gym. MORE

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