Get lost: Teens suing govt over climate change try to stop Exxon, BP from meddling

Six of the 21 young people from across the U.S. that have filed a landmark constitutional climate change lawsuit against the federal government in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon. © Our Children’s Trust
Oil and gas lobbyist are trying to be named as co-defendants in a lawsuit filed by 21 teenagers against the US government. The teens claim their rights were violated when public resources were used for fossil fuel exploitation and they’re fighting back.

“Fossil fuel companies continue to show complete disregard for my future and the future of my generation,” Victoria Barrett, a 16-year-old plaintiff who opposed the industry’s proposal to intervene as defendants in the suit, told EcoWatch. “They have put my constitutional right to a certain quality of living at risk and continue to completely bulldoze over any real solutions for a sustainable world.”

The lawsuit seeks comprehensive, science-based legislation to return atmospheric carbon dioxide to 350 parts per million by the year 2100. The 21 plaintiffs filed their opposition to the industry’s motion to intervene in the case last week.

The lobbyists seeking to become co-defendants with the federal government are the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, which represent the likes of ExxonMobil, BP, Shell, Koch Industries and almost all US refiners and petrochemical manufacturers. The American Petroleum Institute, which represents 625 oil and natural gas companies, and the National Association of Manufacturers are also looking to intervene.

The trade associations argued they have substantial interest in the suit because a ruling in the youths’ favor would cause them harm. They also assert they are already subject to many environmental regulations under the federal Clean Air Act and other laws.

The industry claimed that “reducing greenhouse gas emissions in order to bring atmospheric carbon dioxide levels down to 350 parts per million would abate some of the future risks of climate change, those reductions would nevertheless not be ‘appropriate’ if the future potential benefits would be outweighed by, for instance, enormous losses in productivity and economic development.”

Plaintiffs counter-argued that the Petro Associations are not entitled to a seat at the defense table and that their corporate interests are adequately represented by the government.

“The Petro Associations have the same ultimate objective as [the federal government]: to have this case dismissed and prevent this court from granting [the youths] their requested relief,” attorneys wrote in their response to the trade groups’ motion to intervene, according to Oregon’s Register-Guard.

“These organizations are not named as defendants in our complaint,” Phil Gregory, of Cotchett, Pitre and McCarthy, one of the attorneys representing the youth plaintiffs, told EcoWatch. “The fossil fuel industry understands how significant our case is. They want to join the federal government in attempting to defeat the constitutional claims asserted by these …plaintiffs. The fossil fuel industry and the federal government are lining up against 21 young citizens. That shows you what is at stake here.”

The lawsuit that caught the oil and gas industry’s attention was filed on August 12 in the US District Court in Oregon, by 21 youth plaintiffs aged eight to 19, eight of whom live in Oregon. Former NASA scientist Dr. James E. Hansen, who has been outspoken about climate change, was also part of the lawsuit. Plaintiffs assert the federal government has violated their rights under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.

Plaintiffs in the suit also claim the government failed to protect essential public trust resources by facilitating the exploitation of fossil fuels. They further claim that for over 50 years, the government knew that carbon dioxide pollution from fossil fuels was causing global warming and dangerous climate change.

Both the government and the trade groups have asked a judge to dismiss the lawsuit. In a November 17 filing, government attorneys said the government has “substantial separation of powers concerns” surrounding the case, which they said has the potential to improperly “transform the District Court into a super-regulator setting national climate policy,” according to Register-Guard.