An Oregon judge was scheduled Tuesday to hear a climate change lawsuit filed by two teenagers upset because state government officials have failed to keep their pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Kelsey Juliana and Olivia Chernaik, both of Eugene, filed the 2011 lawsuit that argues that the state's failure to reduce emissions below 1990 levels by 2050 constitutes a violation of the public trust doctrine.
The centuries-old doctrine states that waterways and submerged land are a public resource that must be protected for future generations. State officials have violated that doctrine by failing to protect Oregon's air from the impacts of climate change, the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit has support from Our Children's Trust, a national group that addresses climate change and has pursued similar legal challenges in the past, according to local media reports. Proponents of the lawsuit were scheduled to hold a rally outside the Lane County Courthouse Tuesday before the courtroom hearing.
"This could be a landmark decision on the question: Does government, as trustee over our essential natural resources, have to protect it from carbon pollution and the impacts of climate disruption?" said Julia Olson, executive director of the nonprofit Our Children's Trust.
The lawsuit was dismissed in 2012, after a judge ruled that courts do not have the authority to order state officials to create and carry out a plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. But the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled last summer that the case should be heard.
"I want to remind them that we are their employer," Juliana, an 18-year-old student at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina, told Huffington Post in January. "The government works for us. If you're not doing your job, then I'm going to call you out on it."
The case faces significant obstacles, including whether state officials can be held accountable for what happens to the atmosphere, which can't be contained by state borders. "For a state court to declare that the atmosphere is a public trust subject to control of the state government would be an unprecedented holding," Willy Jay, a lawyer with expertise in Supreme Court and environmental cases, told the Huffington Post.