Will There Be a Trial on Climate Change Public Trust Claims? It’s Looking that Way.

Last November, the District Court of Oregon denied the motion of the United States to dismiss claims that the United States had violated a public trust obligation it owes to US citizens to protect the atmosphere from climate change.  Not surprisingly, the government sought interlocutory appeal.  On Monday, Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin issued a Finding and Recommendation that the request for interlocutory appeal be denied.  Since certification of interlocutory appeals is discretionary with the District Court, it looks as though there’s going to be a trial on the plaintiffs’ claims.

I found the really interesting part of the F&R to be the Court’s summary of the United States’ answer, filed on January 13, 2017, just a week before the inauguration.  In it, the government admitted what I’m sure the plaintiffs are describing as “all kinds of good stuff.”  Allegations from the complaint that the government admitted include:

That there is a scientific consensus that the buildup of GHGs (including CO2) due to human activities (including the combustion of fossil fuels) is changing  the global climate at a pace and in a way that threaten human health and the natural environment.

That climate change is damaging human and natural systems, increasing the risk of loss of life, and requiring adaptation on larger and faster scales than current species have successfully achieved in the past, potentially increasing the risk of extinction or severe disruption for many species.

That current and projected atmospheric concentrations of six well-mixed GHGs, including CO2, threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations, and this threat will mount over time as GHGs continue to accumulate in the atmosphere and result in ever great rates of climate change.

I can understand why the Obama administration might move to dismiss this case on political question grounds, while admitting to many of the underlying allegations, including these.  I can also imagine that the Trump administration might want to defend this case on the merits as well.

This case may take longer to resolve than I had previously thought.

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