Attorney Phil Gregory argues in front of the U.S. District Court in Oregon for the young climate plaintiffsThe youth climate plaintiffs argue to a federal judge in Oregon that their case should not be paused for the latest government appeal. Photo credit: Robin Loznak

By Karen Savage

Emphasizing the urgency of climate change as detailed in the federal government’s own recent Fourth National Climate Assessment, the 21 young plaintiffs in the constitutional climate lawsuit Juliana v. United States have asked a federal judge to reverse her decision to pause the case.

“While Plaintiff’s pretrial proceedings and trial have been stayed, the defendant’s conduct that causes and contributes to climate change has not been ‘stayed’ and gets worse with each passing day,” the plaintiffs wrote in the motion, which was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Oregon.

Last month, District Court Judge Ann Aiken paused pretrial proceedings while the Ninth Circuit considers the government’s fourth petition for a writ of mandamus. The Ninth Circuit has already turned down three previous petitions for mandamus, a rarely used legal mechanism in which a higher court is asked to overrule a lower court before a trial or verdict.

Two days after Aiken announced the stay, the Fourth National Climate Assessment was released. The report is a Congressionally mandated report compiled by 13 federal agencies and hundreds of experts comprising the U.S. Global Change Research Program.

The report, released the day after Thanksgiving by an administration that quickly distanced itself from the findings, concluded that “the evidence of human-caused climate change is overwhelming and continues to strengthen, the impacts of climate change are intensifying across the country, and climate-related threats to Americans’ physical, social, and economic well-being are rising.

“Climate-related risks will continue to grow without additional action. Decisions made today determine risk exposure for current and future generations and will either broaden or limit options to reduce the negative consequences of climate change.”

Philip Gregory, co-counsel for the young plaintiffs, said the report supports the plaintiffs’ claims that they are suffering ongoing and serious harms.

“We firmly believe the District Court should reconsider the decision to stay our case in light of this scientific study prepared by Defendants that human health and safety, our quality of life, and the rate of economic growth in communities across the U.S. are increasingly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change,” Gregory said.

The case has survived numerous attempts by the government to dismiss it since it was originally originally filed in 2015. The 21 young plaintiffs, who come from around the country, argue that the federal government is violating their Constitutional rights to life, liberty and property by promoting an energy system that exacerbates climate change. They are asking for a science-based program to reduce carbon emissions and protect the climate for future generations.

Jayden Foytlin, a 15-year-old plaintiff from Rayne, La., said she is hopeful the case will be allowed to proceed. Her home has flooded twice in recent years and according to the National Climate Assessment, “events of such magnitude are projected to become more likely in the future due to a changing climate.”

“I hope that the Court will let us continue preparing for our trial. We need to get into the courtroom as soon as possible so that we can start to turn this climate crisis around. What happened to my family and me with the floods in 2016 was devastating,” said Foytlin.