The Trump administration urged a federal court on Monday to dismiss a lawsuit filed against the government by a group of young people who allege the government's policies are driving climate change.
Federal lawyers called the claims “unprecedented” and said the case, if it is allowed to go forward, could lead to “litigation that is distracting the executive branch from the discharge of its duties.”
“It is really extraordinary,” Deputy Assistant Attorney General Eric Grant told a panel of judges on the Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.
“Plaintiffs seek unprecedented standing to pursue unprecedented claims in pursuit of of an unprecedented remedy.”
The lawsuit, from a group of 21 young plaintiffs ranging in age from 10 to 21, claims federal government energy policies have helped create climate change that will hurt the children as they grow up. It aims to force the government to address the issue going forward.
“Children are disproportionately experiencing the impacts of climate change, and will going forward,” said Julia Olson, the executive director and chief legal counsel of the Children’s Trust, which is representing the the group.
Olson asked the court Monday to allow the case to move forward “so these young people can present their historic and scientific evidence and make their case.”
A three-judge panel, made up of two Clinton appointees and a Reagan appointee, will decide the case.
The judges on Monday seemed to worry about the ability of the court system to order the government to address the children's concerns if they were to win the case.
Judge Alex Kozinski, the Reagan appointee, was skeptical of the children’s suit, wondering whether they have standing given previous rulings setting a high bar for allowing climate change cases to move forward.
But the judges also questioned several parts of the government’s argument, including concerns over the burden the federal government would face in participating in the case and warnings about how broadly the case could be decided.
“I would hope if this case did go forward that it would be pared down, and focused on particular orders and agencies, but to stop it now when there are all kinds of ways for things to develop — it’s not unusual for a case to be filed very broadly and decided very narrowly,” Judge Marsha Berzon said.
If the court were to halt the case before it goes to trial, Chief Judge Sidney Thomas worried, “we would be absolutely flooded with appeals from people who think their case should be dismissed by the district court.”
He said, “if we set the precedent on this kind of case, there’s no logical boundary to it.”