In light of the failure of the US Congress to address climate change, legal actions have been filed in all 50 states to force government action on climate change.
The lawsuits are being led by an Oregon-based nonprofit called Our Children’s Trust, they argue that key agencies have failed to protect the earth’s atmosphere for future generations. The lawsuits seek to have the atmosphere declared a “public trust” deserving special protection. The same approach was successfully used to clean up polluted rivers and coastlines.
Regulatory petitions are asking state environmental agencies to tighten restrictions on vehicle and industrial emissions. State-level lawsuits have been filed in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington.
Earlier this year several states sought to reign in power plant emissions by asking the US Supreme Court to declare them a public nuisance. The pending decision in the public nuisance case will heavily influence the outcome of the state-level lawsuits.
There is strong opposition from Republicans as well as concerns that these kinds of public policy issues are better addressed in either the state legislatures or Congress. The outcome hinges on whether the courts decide that they have the authority to rule on this issue. Even if they are only partially successful these efforts could drive new regulations to reign in US greenhouse gas emissions.