One might assume that a lawsuit brought by a group of 21 youngsters between the ages of 8 and 19 against the federal government might be tossed from the dockets of the packed judicial system.

But a federal judge is taking the lawsuit filed against President Barack Obama and several federal agencies seriously. The young people allege the “defendants have known for more than 50 years that [CO2] produced by burning fossil fuels was destabilizing the climate system in a way that would ‘significantly endanger plaintiffs, with the damage persisting for millennia.’”

The group of young people accuses the federal government of deliberately allowing CO2 to escalate to unprecedented levels, and claims the government’s authority over entities which contribute to greenhouse-gas emissions makes it responsible.

Saying federal government officials “violated their obligation to hold certain natural resources in trust for the people and for future generations,” the group along with fellow plaintiffs—the Earth Guardians young environmental activist group and Dr. James Hansen, a climate scientist, seek:

  • A declaration that their constitutional and public trust rights have been violated; and
  • An order enjoining defendants from violating those rights and directing defendants to develop a plan to reduce CO2 emissions, according to federal court documents made available via Fuel Fix.

The Oregon federal judge is allowing the lawsuit to move forward against the wishes of the federal government, the National Association of Manufacturers, the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers and the American Petroleum Institute—all of which sought to dismiss the lawsuit.

“This action is of a different order than the typical environmental case,” U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken wrote in the opinion and order. “It alleges that [the] defendants’ actions and inactions—whether or not they violate any specific statutory duty—have so profoundly damaged our home planet that they threaten [the] plaintiffs’ fundamental constitutional rights to life and liberty.”

The group filing suit points to the actions of agencies that include the Council on Environmental Quality, Office of Management and Budget, Office of Science and Technology Policy, Department of Energy, Department of the Interior, Department of Transportation, Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, Department of State and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The lawsuit singled out decisions on issues such as:

  • The extent of CO2 emissions regulations for power plants and vehicles;
  • Whether to grant permits for fossil fuel extraction and development to take place on federal lands; and
  • Whether to give tax breaks to the fossil fuel industry as examples of areas where the U.S. government has essentially failed future generations when it comes to combating climate change.

The lawsuit is, oddly, being brought against an administration that has worked to curb emissions. It also comes at a time when the oil and gas industry has made strides in reducing emissions.

Regardless, the lawsuit will be an interesting one to watch.

Velda Addison can be reached at