By Todd Cloutier
Having watched efforts to push climate legislation at the Federal level fizzle, some decided the time just wasn’t right to push for legislation. Oregon-based non-profit Our Children’s Trust decided instead to take a different approach. They re-cast the issue of control of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from being an international obligation, to an issue of personal responsibility through the use of a common-law concept called Public Trust Doctrine.
Our Children’s Trust filed lawsuits in all 50 states last week, citing Public Trust Doctrine as the basis, asserting that:
- The state holds the atmosphere, as well as the navigable waters, wetlands, etc… in trust for present and future generations,
- The state has a duty to control emissions, including GHG emissions into the atmosphere,
- The state’s duty is required to be based on the best available science,
- The state has failed in its duty to control emissions of GHG to protect the atmosphere, based on the best available science.
The lawsuits were filed with children named as the plaintiffs in the case (with their parents’ support, of course). The case’s publicity exploded when it hit the New York Times, including interviews with some of the child plaintiffs.
Here are a host of resources to get you more informed on this issue:
1. Public Trust Doctrine in Washington State. Note that the current definition of Public Trust Doctrine does NOT include the atmosphere: http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/sea/sma/laws_rules/public_trust.html
2. Our Children’s Trust website: http://ourchildrenstrust.org/
3. KING-5 online news article: http://www.king5.com/news/business/121235248.html
4. New York Times online news article: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/05/science/earth/05climate.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=climate%20lawsuit&st=cse
5. iMatter marches website – started by some of the children involved in the lawsuits. Nearest march currently scheduled is in Bellevue: http://imattermarch.org/
6. Table that shows how Public Trust Doctrine is written in to each state’s laws and constitutions: http://www.progressivereform.org/articles/PubTrust_State_table_2009.pdf
7. History and legal basis of Public Trust Doctrine, from Byzantine law to modern-day US: http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Public+trust+and+distrust%3a+the+theoretical+implications+of+the+public+…-a075162661