The Animal Legal Defense Fund contends that the government is responsible for climate impacts depriving people of the right to enjoy the outdoorsGroups who say the U.S. government is violating their rights by exacerbating climate change are appealing dismissal of their lawsuit. Photo credit: David McNew/Getty Images

By Karen Savage

Two groups alleging the federal government is violating their Constitutional rights by contributing to climate change have filed an appeal of a federal judge’s decision to throw out their lawsuit against the Trump administration.

In the appeal, filed Tuesday in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Seeding Sovereignty and six individuals contend that U.S. District Court Judge Michael J. McShane improperly dismissed their suit. McShane ruled they do not have standing to sue because they are not uniquely affected by the harms associated with climate change, which he recognized as affecting everyone.

The lawsuit alleges that by supporting the fossil fuel industry and failing to take action on climate change, the Department of Interior, the Department of Agriculture and other federal agencies are violating the right to be left alone as guaranteed under the First, Fifth and Ninth amendments. 

McShane said in his ruling that the plaintiffs do not have a fundamental “right to wilderness” as they had claimed in the suit. He  agreed with the government’s contention that the plaintiffs do not have standing because they could not show that they were specifically impacted by climate change.

The Trump administration is using the same argument to try to keep the landmark youth climate case Juliana v. United States from going to trial. A European court used similar reasoning to dismiss a lawsuit filed by families and a youth group from eight countries against the European Union for allegedly violating their rights by taking inadequate action against climate change.

“The consequences of climate change in the U.S. have already been deadly, and by all accounts is just the tip of the rapidly-melting iceberg,” Stephen Wells, executive director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, said after filing the appeal.

The DOJ did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

“Traditionally, laws, legislators, and courts have viewed the environment as a resource to be consumed and exploited for profit. This lawsuit would confirm that preserving wilderness should be the baseline for environmental protection — preserving what remains and restoring much that was lost will be essential to any plans to mitigate climate change,” Wells said.

“Just as the U.S. and State governments have incentivized and facilitated the destruction of wilderness for short-sighted profit, our lawsuit seeks to force these institutions to turn their resources towards protecting and restoring wilderness.”

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