A Note From Our Chapter Chair
I hope you had a relaxing and fun summer of growth! We certainly had enough rain to grow anything!
This summer, Sierra Club Connecticut sponsored a number of hike and kayaking activities. Many thanks to the Sierra Club Connecticut Military Outdoors Program for pulling these together. If you missed the fun, you can get a glimpse in the Summer 2023 Photos section of this newsletter. And be sure to look for more to come! We have lots of exciting activities and campaigns planned for September. I hope you will join us either in-person or online. These include a Honk for Climate Action Rally on September 9, a webinar on PFAS chemicals on September 20, and a showcase of electric vehicles, bikes, and lawncare equipment on September 24.
On August 14, 16 brave young people won a landmark climate lawsuit which will impact future cases and all our futures. Judge Kathy Seeley ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in Held versus Montana. The decision held that:
The government of Montana violated the right of the plaintiffs to a clean and healthful environment as guaranteed by the Montana State Constitution.
The state must consider climate change and its impacts when assessing new or renewals of fossil fuel projects.
The Montana law prohibiting regulators from considering the effects of climate change when assessing fossil fuel projects is unconstitutional.
State emissions from Montana’s coal, gas and oil plants are a substantial contributing factor to climate change.
Montana has 5,000 gas wells, 4,000 oil wells, four oil refineries, and six coal mines. One third of their energy comes from burning coal. Besides documenting the impacts of this reliance on dirty fossil fuels, the case detailed the State’s lax environmental oversight and favored permitting for fossil fuel projects. I watched the compelling testimony from the young plaintiffs about how extreme weather fueled by the climate crisis had impacted their families’ livelihoods, and their individual health. Others spoke of their deep anxiety for their futures. The dedication and persistence of these young people as they fight for their futures is inspiring.
There are similar “children’s climate lawsuits” pending in four other states: Hawai’i, Florida, Utah and Virginia, brought by youth with legal representation from Our Children’s Trust, a legal non-profit “representing young people and their legal right to a safe climate.” They work globally and have legal actions pending in Canada, India, Mexico, Pakistan, and Uganda, as well. Our Children’s Trust has had legal actions in all 50 U.S. states, including Connecticut. On May 4, 2011, they filed a petition for rulemaking on climate change with Connecticut’s Department of Environmental Protection (now CT DEEP). The petition requested “the promulgation of a regulation to strictly limit and regulate fossil fuel carbon dioxide emissions, and to establish an effective emissions reduction strategy that will achieve an atmospheric concentration no greater than 350 ppm of carbon dioxide by 2100. CT DEEP denied the petition on June 3, 2011.
The case in Hawai’i was filed against the Department of Transportation by 14 youths, claiming that the state’s transportation system is run in such a way that high levels of greenhouse gases are emitted, and that this violates their state constitutional rights and interferes with their chance to “live healthful lives in Hawaiʻi now and into the future.” They ask that the state decarbonize and meet their zero emissions goals by 2045. This case is scheduled to go to trial next June.
Juliana vs Oregon is a federal case that has been ongoing for eight years. Twenty-one young plaintiffs, represented by attorneys from Our Children’s Trust, filed the petition in the U.S. District Court, Oregon, in August 2015. This case has been covered extensively in the press and there is even a movie about it streaming on Netflix, Youth V Gov. The Trump administration’s Department of Justice (DOJ) aggressively fought the case with delays and motions to stay or dismiss, but the plaintiffs did not give up. After several stays and appeals, it seemed the case was dead until, on June 1, 2023, Judge Ann Aiken ruled that the case could go forward to trial, giving renewed hope.
Judge Aiken reasoned, “Exercising my ‘reasoned judgment,’ I have no doubt that the right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society.” - U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken
One of the plaintiffs, Nathan Baring, said,
"It has been nearly eight years since Juliana was filed in Federal court and it has now been eight years of growing up, from early high school to post-graduate school, under the emotional weight of a climate system that will be handed to our generation in disrepair. Our policymakers, legal scholars, and, most importantly, our judiciary, must now heed Judge Aiken's words that ‘when government conduct catastrophically harms American citizens, the judiciary is constitutionally required to perform its independent role.’ In the moment when every new UN IPCC Declaration is a clarion call, when every year racks up unprecedented global weather disasters, when Congress is seemingly determined to further drive the US and world past points of 'no return,' it is the responsibility of our court system to be the constitutional bulwark in halting ‘the nation's willful destruction’ (quoting Judge Staton's dissent from 2020)."
Now is the perfect time to show President Biden just how much support there is to stop building fossil fuel infrastructure and phasing out production of fossil fuels. March for the Climate on September 17 in New York City!
Susan Eastwood is Chapter Chair of Sierra Club Connecticut.