A Pennsylvania climate case was dismissed by a federal judge TuesdayA Pennsylvania climate case was dismissed by a judge who says the judiciary should not be involved in climate policy. Photo credit: Garen M. via Flickr

By Dana Drugmand

A federal judge in Pennsylvania dismissed a climate lawsuit brought by an environmental organization and two children against the federal government. The lawsuit, Clean Air Council v. United States, claimed that Trump administration rollbacks of environmental regulations and other “anti-science” decisions violate Constitutional rights and the public trust.

In dismissing the claims on Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Paul Diamond scoffed at what he interpreted as a request that he “supervise any actions the President and his appointees take that might touch on ‘the environment.’”

Beyond ruling on this case, however, Diamond went further to rebuke U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken for her ruling in Juliana v. United States that the young plaintiffs had a Constitutional right to a livable climate. When Aiken ordered that lawsuit to trial in 2016, she said “the right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society,” becoming the first U.S. judge to recognize that right.

Diamond said that ruling is at odds with previous court decisions and “the Juliana Court certainly contravened or ignored longstanding authority.”

He also took issue with what guaranteeing a stable climate would entail,, calling it “without apparent limit.”

In dismissing the case before him, Diamond said the Pennsylvania plaintiffs, who filed the suit in 2017, lacked standing. The two boys said their serious allergies and asthma were directly linked to the impacts of climate change, but Diamond said they failed to directly tie their injuries to government actions. Diamond said he interpreted this case as a political dispute. “Plaintiffs’ disagreement with Defendants is a policy debate best left to the political process,” he wrote.

Diamond was appointed to his post by President George W. Bush in 2004.

The Clean Air Council said in a statement it “respectfully disagrees with the decision” and is discussing the next steps with its counsel.

“The Trump administration continues to rely on junk science to implement reckless climate change policies in the face of indisputable U.S. and international scientific consensus. For decades, the U.S. government has acknowledged that climate change presents a clear and present danger to life, and represents an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies and the planet. These acts of deliberate indifference are increasing U.S. contributions to climate change, thereby increasing the frequency and intensity of its life-threatening effects, and violating our constitutional rights,” said Joseph Otis Minott, executive director and chief counsel of the Clean Air Council.

“We are troubled that the opinion states the federal government ‘do[es] not produce greenhouse gases’ and that ‘climate change is the creation of those that pollute the air, not the Government,’” he added. “These statements are both irrelevant to our claims and factually incorrect.”  

Diamond made clear he does not see a role for the judiciary in climate policy and argued that Aiken’s recognition of the public trust claims in Juliana was an incorrect expansion of that doctrine beyond its traditional concept governing only navigable waters.

“Plaintiffs seek to create an entirely new doctrine—investing the Federal Government with an affirmative duty to protect all land and resources within the United States,” Diamond wrote. “The Juliana Court alone has recognized this new doctrine. Again, that Court’s reasoning is less than persuasive.”

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