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[Editor’s note: Twenty-one youth plaintiffs, as well as climate scientist Dr. James Hansen as guardian for future generations, is suing the federal government to cease conduct that promotes fossil fuel extraction and consumption, and instead develop and implement an actual science-based climate recovery plan. The complaint argues the youth have a fundamental constitutional right to be free from the government’s destruction of their Earth’s atmosphere. Yesterday’s court appearance was scheduled for the judge to hear oral arguments from the U.S. government and the fossil fuel industry on their motions to dismiss the landmark constitutional climate change lawsuit.]
At Wednesday morning’s historic hearing, U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas M. Coffin questioned Department of Justice attorney Sean C. Duffy on whether the federal government was allowing tradeoffs between present and future generations. To illustrate his question, the Judge used an example of a discount rate, and pondered whether the government’s actions were effectively trading future harm for present day benefits.
“Are you robbing Peter to pay Paul?” the judge asked a flustered Duffy.
The hearing began with Duffy denying the federal government’s duty under the public trust doctrine to protect essential natural resources for the benefit of all present and future generations. The judge asked, “Both (water & air) are vital to life, right?”
“Yes, your honor,” replied Duffy.
The Judge also asked if the government could sell the Pacific Ocean to Exxon. Remarkably, Duffy had a constitutional argument handy to support even that proposition.
Hundreds of students, activists, professors and citizens concerned about climate turned out in Eugene, Oregon to support 21 young plaintiffs, ages 8-19, in what Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein call the “most important lawsuit on the planet right now.”
“The future of our generation is at stake,” said 16-year-old plaintiff Victoria Barrett at the press conference following the hearing.
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