SEATTLE (AP) — A judge has denied an appeal by eight young activists who petitioned Washington state to adopt stricter science-based regulations to protect them against climate change.
King County Superior Court Judge Hollis Hill affirmed some of the children's arguments, saying the state has a duty to protect natural resources for future generations. But she said the Washington Department of Ecology is already working on meeting that obligation by writing new rules for greenhouse gas emissions ordered by the governor.
Climate activists, ages 10 to 15, in Seattle brought the lawsuit asking the court to force state officials to adopt new rules to limit carbon emissions based on the best available science. The case is part of a nationwide effort led by the Oregon-based nonprofit Our Children's Trust to force states and the federal government to take action on climate change.
The judge noted in her ruling Thursday that the Ecology Department is taking science into account, along with economic, social and political considerations. She also said the court can't dictate how officials develop the rules.
Lawyers representing the children claimed a win Friday, saying youth who sued got what they wanted even though the judge did not order the agency to write new rules.
"She agreed with our legal arguments that they (the children) have a constitutional right to a healthful environment," said Andrea Rodgers, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center.
Rodgers noted the judge said Washington has a mandatory duty under the state's Clean Air act and the state constitution to preserve and protect the air quality for current and future generations.
"We're so hopeful that Ecology will heed the guidance that the judge gave them," Rodgers added.
Michael Gerrard, a professor and director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University, called the judge's ruling "helpful but not revolutionary."
"This court decision has some nice language, but the court did not require anybody to do anything," he said. "This helps build up a legal foundation, but we don't yet have a structure with a roof on it. The state does need to take it seriously, but I don't know if it's anything different from what (the Ecology Department) is doing."
Ecology Director Maia Bellon said in a statement Friday that "we are satisfied that the court's order recognizes that the rulemaking directed by Governor (Jay) Inslee will meet Ecology's obligation to protect our climate from harmful greenhouse gas emissions."
She said she was impressed with the children's engagement and welcomed their input as the state writes those new rules.
Associated Press writer Gene Johnson contributed to this report.