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US judge throws out youth-led climate lawsuit

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A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit by 18 young people who claim the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency discriminates against children by issuing permits for fossil fuel projects that release too many climate-warming pollutants.

District Judge Michael Fitzgerald in Los Angeles said that the youths bringing the case ‘did not have legal standing’ to bring the suit because any ruling he might issue in their favour wouldn’t address their alleged harms.

The December lawsuit sought a declaration that the EPA has violated the plaintiffs’ equal protection, due process and other rights under the U.S. Constitution by approving permits for factories, refineries and other sources of pollution, reports Reuters.

‘This order is unjust and dangerous’

The youth were between the ages of eight and 17 when they sued. They said climate change is making wildfires worse and exacerbating sea-level rise, and that children are more susceptible to things like respiratory problems from smoke due to their still-developing lungs, and to water-borne diseases since children spend more time outside and are more likely to have open skin wounds.

Fitzgerald said a declaration in their favour wouldn’t mitigate those harms absent concrete government action. He noted the 9th U.S. Court of Appeals already reached the same conclusion earlier this month in a similar case brought by youth plaintiffs in Oregon federal court, and had previously said courts can’t mandate broad policy changes, which are best left to Congress or the executive branch to address.

Fitzgerald said the plaintiffs could amend their complaint, but that he is skeptical they can fix the issues.

“This order is unjust and dangerous,” said Mat dos Santos, the co-executive director of the non-profit law firm Our Children’s Trust, which represents the plaintiffs.

The agency said in March that the government is working to address the climate crisis, but that lawsuits must challenge specific permitting decisions and not the EPA’s response or alleged lack of response to climate change “in its entirety.” The youth should seek those changes through the political branches of government, the EPA said.

Numerous youth-led climate lawsuits have been filed in recent years by the firm arguing state or federal policies promoting fossil fuels violate young people’s rights.

While many of the lawsuits have been dismissed, a Montana state judge last year ruled in favour of a group of young people who said the state’s permitting of fossil fuel projects violated a 1972 amendment to the Montana constitution requiring the state to protect and improve the environment.

Click here for more information on the case, ‘Genesis v EPA’, courtesy of the Children’s Trust.

Author: Simon Weedy

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