U.S. District Court Dismisses Kids’ Lawsuit Against Trump Climate Policies

Published March 25, 2019

A federal district judge in Philadelphia dismissed a lawsuit by two Pennsylvania boys and an environmental group challenging the Trump administration’s rollback of some Obama-era climate regulations.

In Clean Air Council v. United States, Judge Paul Diamond of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ruled the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue the Trump administration because the Constitution does not guarantee due process rights to what the boys and the Philadelphia-based Clean Air Council (CAC) called a “life-sustaining climate.” Diamond noted the boys, who were ages seven and 11 when the lawsuit was filed in November 2017, could not trace their respective health problems to the Trump administration’s climate policies.

Diamond granted requests by President Donald Trump, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and other administration officials to dismiss the case.

‘Best Left to the Political Process’

The judiciary is not the branch of government charged with making climate policy, Diamond ruled.

“Plaintiffs’ disagreement with the defendants is a policy debate best left to the political process,” Diamond wrote. “Because I have neither the authority nor the inclination to assume control of the Executive Branch, I will grant defendants’ motion.”

Diamond rejected what he characterized as the plaintiffs’ argument he “supervise any action that the President and his appointees take that might touch on ‘the environment.'”

Criticized Oregon Ruling

In his decision dismissing the CAC lawsuit, Diamond took the rare step of rebuking a decision made by one of his peers, Judge Ann Aiken of the U.S. District Court of Oregon in the case Juliana v. United States.

In Juliana, 21 children represented by an environmental activist organization sued the federal government over its climate change policies. Aiken ordered the lawsuit to trial in 2016, stating “the right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society.” Aiken’s determination the young plaintiffs had a Constitutional right to a livable climate was the first such ruling by a U.S. judge.

Aiken’s ruling is at odds with previous court decisions, Diamond stated in his decision.

“[T]he Julianna Court certainly contravened or ignored longstanding precedent,” and the government power granted through guarantees of a stable climate would be “apparently without limit,” Diamond wrote.

“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 Julianna Court alone has recognized this new doctrine. … [T]he Court’s reasoning is less than persuasive.”

‘Noble Lie on Steroids’

Diamond was right to disparage Aiken’s ruling, says Christopher Horner, an attorney and senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

“The federal court in Pennsylvania threw the suit out and in the process was fairly direct in criticizing the Oregon judge’s activism in supporting the demand for a climate plan ‘without apparent limit,’ which is the most alarming aspect of the decision,” Horner said. “Aiken’s ruling offers the ruling class a bottomless well of authority to usurp liberty and impose suffering in the name of something it actually would not affect. It is the Noble Lie on steroids, possibly the most Noble Lie ever perpetrated.

“Even if you accept arguendo alarmists’ model assumptions, the United States disappearing would make no difference, with our sacrifice swamped by greenhouse gas increases from the developing world,” said Horner. “Taking into account the fact climate alarmists’ disaster scenarios have repeatedly proven wrong, the Oregon court’s ruling is just a political prescription having nothing to do with climate. Climate becomes a not-very-good excuse to abandon our democratic processes and the separation of powers.”

‘Trying to Rewrite the Constitution’

Diamond’s decision to criticize Aiken’s previous ruling was made in defense of the law and the U.S. Constitution, say David Wojick, Ph.D., a policy analyst with the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT).

“Judge Diamond’s strong decision is most welcome, especially since these outrageous climate lawsuits are trying to rewrite the Constitution,” said Wojick. “Under the law, he didn’t have to say anything after standing was denied, because the case was then out of his court, but his ruling went further, adding a substantive, constitutional, reason for rejecting this and any similar climate lawsuit.”

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research and a senior policy analyst with CFACT.