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Judge Finds ‘Constitutional Obligation’ for State to Act on Global Warming

About 200 activists stage a sit-in outside the US State Department in opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline in an attempt to maintain pressure on President Obama to keep his promise to fight climate change by rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline, August 12, 2013, in Washington, DC. AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

In what environmentalists are calling a “groundbreaking” ruling, a Washington state judge wrote that state lawmakers have a “constitutional obligation” to the youth of the state to take action on global warming.

Using some alarming language, King County Superior Court Judge Hollis R. Hill issued a ruling in a case involving eight Washington state youth in a case against the Washington Department of Ecology, seeking to require writing carbon emission rules to protect their generation. Though, Hill ultimately ruled the state was taking proper action to meet its obligation.

“In fact, as the petitioners assert and this court finds, their very survival depends upon the will of their elders to act now, decisively, unequivocally, to stem the tide of global warming by accelerating reductions of emission of GHG’s before doing so becomes first, too costly and then too late," the judge's ruling said. "The scientific evidence is clear that the current rates of reduction mandated by Washington law cannot achieve the GHG reductions necessary to protect our environment and to ensure the survival of an environment in which petitioners can grow to adulthood safely.”


The judge determined the state’s public trust doctrine gives the state a “mandatory duty” to act.

“Therefore, the state has a constitutional obligation to protect the public’s interest in natural resources held in trust for the common benefit of the people of the state,” the judge's ruling said.

However, the decision concludes citing Gov. Jay Inslee's efforts to curb climate change as evidence the state isn't avoiding those duties, and as a reason to side with the state.

“Ecology’s actions are neither arbitrary nor capricious. Now that Ecology has commenced rulemaking to establish greenhouse emission standards taking into account science as well as economic, social and political considerations, it cannot be found to be acting arbitrarily or capriciously," the ruling says. "For the foregoing reasons, the petition for review is denied due to the Department of Ecology having commenced the aforementioned rulemaking process as directed by the governor.”

The youth were represented by Our Children’s Trust, which describes itself as a “global human rights and environmental justice campaign;” the Western Environmental Law Center, which describes itself as combining “legal skills and sound conservation biology;” and Plant for the Planet, which describes itself as a group that “connects children around the world as ambassadors for climate justice.”

These organizations say they have pending litigation brought by youth in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Massachusetts and Oregon. Looking ahead to other court battles, the groups framed the Washington decision as a victory because the ruling asserted that the state had a constitutional and legal duty to protect the next generation from the impact of global warming.

“In this important ruling, Judge Hill has made it very clear what Ecology must do when promulgating the Clean Air Rule: preserve, protect and enhance air quality for present and future generations and uphold the constitutional rights of these young people,” Western Environmental Law Center attorney Andrea Rodgers said in a statement. “We will hold Ecology accountable every step of the way to make sure that Judge Hill's powerful words are put into action. This is a huge victory for our children and for the climate movement.”

This post was updated to clarify the judge ruled in favor of the state, while asserting it had legal duties in combatting global warming.

Washington State Global Warming Ruling

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