12 March, 2018
A federal appeals court has rejected an effort by the United States government to halt a case against President Donald Trump and his administration.
A group of 21 young people brought the case against the federal government. They accuse the Trump administration of violating their constitutional rights by ignoring the harm caused by climate change.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled against the administration on March 7. The court said the government had failed to provide enough evidence under federal law to dismiss the case.
The lawsuit started three years ago in the northwestern state of Oregon. At that time, the case was directed against the administration of President Barack Obama.
This is one of several cases seeking to have courts deal with climate change and its causes.
Young people's right to a livable climate
The young people, now aged 10 to 21, accuse federal officials and oil industry leaders of knowing for years about the effects of carbon dioxide emissions on the climate.
Carbon dioxide is a gas produced naturally in the environment. It is made when people and other living things breathe. Carbon dioxide also is produced from the burning of fossil fuels, such as oil and coal. The case says the government and oil industry knew that the burning was harmful to Earth's climate, but refused to do anything about it.
The young people said the lack of action has deprived them of their rights to life, freedom and property, including the right to live in a habitable climate. They want the government to write a recovery plan to reduce carbon emissions to 350 parts per million by the year 2100. That would be 400 parts per million lower than current levels.
Many of the plaintiffs are from Oregon, but some come from other states. They say they are affected by the effects of slowly rising temperatures in the atmosphere. They have given examples, such as warmer winters, flooding, and damage to fisheries.
The Obama administration first tried to have the case dismissed. It claimed that the courts were not prepared to "oversee a phenomenon that spans the globe," court papers said.
In November 2016, a U.S. district judge in Eugene, Oregon refused to dismiss the lawsuit. District Judge Ann Aiken said a quick dismissal without looking at the facts could support the accusation of the government's "knowing decision to poison the air."
The Trump administration also tried to have the case dismissed. It urged the court of appeals to halt the case before it continued to trial.
The government said letting the case proceed would lead to a burdensome process of searching for documents and questioning people. It also said the case would create a "constitutional crisis" by putting courts against Trump and the many other administration officials named as defendants.
But in the decision on March 7, Chief Judge Sidney Thomas said the dismissal request was too early. He added that deciding whether the accusers' claims were too general could be discussed through the normal legal process.
Bringing climate change to court
Julia Olson, who represented the plaintiffs, is executive director of Our Children's Trust. The trust provides legal help for efforts to improve the climate. Olsen told the Reuters news agency that her group welcomed the decision.
"It's very exciting," she said. "It will be the first time that climate science and the federal government's role in creating its dangers will go on trial in a U.S. court."
The decision means the case will probably return to the lower court in Oregon where District Judge Aiken will decide what happens next.
Olsen said she will be seeking official statements from several representatives of top federal agencies, as well as climate change scientists.
I'm Phil Dierking.
Jonathan Stempel reported this story for the Reuters News Agency. Phil Dierking adapted his report for VOA Learning English. The article includes information from other media. George Grow was the editor.
Do you think that governments should be sued for ignoring climate change? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section or on 51VOA.COM.
Words in This Story
burden - n. someone or something that is very difficult to accept, do, or deal with
fossil fuels - n. a fuel (such as coal, oil, or natural gas) that is formed in the earth from dead plants or animals
litigation - n. tan issue that is decided and settled in a court of law
meritorious - adj. deserving honor or praise
phenomenon - n. someone or something that is very impressive or popular especially because of an unusual ability or quality
plaintiff - n. a person who sues another person or accuses another person of a crime in a court of law
remedy - n. a medicine or treatment that relieves pain or cures a usually minor illness