By Karen Savage
Eight young people have filed a lawsuit against the state of Florida for violating their Constitutional right to a safe climate.
In a suit filed Monday in Leon County Court, the young plaintiffs allege that Florida officials are contributing to climate change by permitting and licensing fossil fuel activities. The young people are asking the court to order the state to create a science-based plan to curb climate change. It’s the same demand being made in the youth climate case against the federal government, Juliana v. United States, and in several other state-level cases, all supported by the same legal advocacy group, Our Children’s Trust.
Because Florida’s constitution recognizes the public trust doctrine, the suit says, state officials are legally obligated to protect the state’s natural resources. Public trust doctrine is a legal principle in which air, water and land must be protected for the enjoyment and use of current and future generations.
“It is the responsibility of the state to uphold the constitution, and these young people have a fundamental right to a stable climate system,” said Guy Burns, lead counsel for the plaintiffs.
The suit names as defendants the state of Florida and Gov. Rick Scott; the Florida Department of Environmental Protection; the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services; the Florida Board of Trustees of Internal Improvement Trust Fund; and the Public Service Commission.
Plaintiffs do not allege the defendants have failed to act against climate change, but instead say the state has exacerbated the problem with policies that perpetuate an energy system based on greenhouse gas-emitting fossil fuels.
It was widely reported in 2015 that Scott had an unspoken policy forbidding the use of the words “climate change.” Scott has denied such a policy ever existed.
As a result of climate change, Florida is already experiencing more extreme precipitation events, ocean acidification and sunny day flooding due to rising sea levels. Doctors have also reported an increase in heat-related illnesses and other health-related climate impacts.
The plaintiffs allege that by failing to protect the state’s natural resources, the defendants are denying their fundamental rights to liberty, pursuit of happiness and property, and personal and economic health, safety and well-being.
Last year, 20-year-old plaintiff Oscar Psychas walked 280 miles from his home in Gainesville to Tallahassee to draw attention to his demand that the state protect the environment.
“During my walk I saw climate change firsthand during the hottest spring ever recorded in Florida and forests dying from sea level rise along the Gulf Coast,” Psychas said shortly before a press conference at the state capitol.
“I’m back in Tallahassee today because I’ve seen that when our leaders destroy a stable climate, everything we care about—our wild places, our communities, our basic rights to life, liberty, and property—is endangered.”
Levi Draheim, a 10-year old plaintiff from Satellite Beach, is also one of the youngest plaintiffs in the Juliana case.
“We can’t delay anymore because climate change is a huge problem,” said Draheim, who was forced to change schools after flooding from Hurricane Irma closed his previous school. “We must deal with it right now and start reducing the emissions that are causing it. We need to fix the problem not just talk about it.”