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Four dozen federal lawmakers and scores of advocacy groups on Thursday sent President Joe Biden and other leaders within his administration letters in support of the yearslong climate case that accuses the U.S. government of violating young Americans’ constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property, and failing to protect essential public trust resources.
“We urge the DOJ to reverse its position, stop fighting the youth, and bring to the settlement table tangible ideas to significantly address the youth’s concerns for a safe environment.”
The lawsuit, Juliana v. United States, was filed in a U.S. District Court in Oregon more than six years ago. The youth plaintiffs—who are now teenagers and young adults—are awaiting rulings on a pair of motions after settlement talks with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) ended earlier this month without resolution.
Two groups of lawmakers—one in each congressional chamber—sent letters to the president, and copied Ron Klain, the White House chief of staff; Gina McCarthy, Biden’s national climate adviser; Brenda Mallory, chair of the Council on Environmental Quality; and Ike Irby, policy adviser to Vice President Kamala Harris.
“We write to express our concern with the positions taken by the United States in Juliana v. United States, the constitutional climate change lawsuit filed by 21 young Americans… in which the United States thus far has failed to recognize a fundamental right to a safe climate system,” says the House letter.
“Young people across our nation are seeking environmental and climate justice, especially youth within environmental justice communities, like the Black, Brown, and Indigenous plaintiffs in this case,” the letter continues. “These communities have contributed the least to emissions and have long suffered from systemic environmental racism and social and economic injustices.”
Quoting one of Biden’s early executive orders, the letter adds that “it is our hope that all of the defendant agencies within the Biden administration, and the Department of Justice, will work with the youth to fulfill your commitment to ‘listen to science—and act’ by using a ‘government-wide approach’ to tackling the climate crisis.”
The House effort was led by Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.) and backed by 38 other lawmakers. The similar Senate letter was spearheaded by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and signed by eight other members of the upper chamber.
“Catastrophic wildfires, intense heatwaves, and unregulated plastic pollution are quickly jeopardizing the survival of life as we’ve known it on our planet,” Merkley said Thursday. “If we care about the health, lives, and prosperity of our children and those who follow, we must tackle the climate crisis with bold, immediate action and address environmental injustice.”
Echoing the senator’s warning, Jones said that “the climate crisis poses an existential threat to the future of our planet and the young people who will inherit it. Specifically, young people like the Juliana v. United States plaintiffs.”
“I’m proud to stand with them as they fight for their fundamental right to a safe climate and a livable future,” he added. “Leaders from around the world recently discussed global solutions to the climate crisis in Scotland. Here in the United States, I urge President Biden to stand in solidarity with these young people and end the efforts of his administration to impede their path. It’s time our federal government finally aligns its actions on climate change with its rhetoric, and takes the bold action necessary to avert climate catastrophe. Our young people are counting on us.”
Bill McKibben of 350.org and Third Act joined with Jerome Foster II of OneMillionOfUs and the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council for the advocacy coalition letter, which was signed by 167 groups.
The groups took aim at U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and other Justice Department leaders, writing that they “stand with these youth in our dismay with the DOJ’s position and tactics in the Juliana litigation,” and that its position “flies in the face of” the Biden administration’s climate promises.
“The Trump administration argued that the children have no right to access the courts to vindicate their constitutional rights when they are in a health- and life-threatening controversy with their government,” notes the groups’ letter. “Because of President Biden’s many commitments to vigorously combat climate change, we expect something different, better, and more commensurate with the climate crisis’ urgency from this DOJ.”
“We believe that DOJ’s position in the Juliana litigation should align with and further the Biden administration’s recent executive orders and policies addressing climate injustice and the climate crisis,” the letter continues. “Therefore, we urge the DOJ to reverse its position, stop fighting the youth, and bring to the settlement table tangible ideas to significantly address the youth’s concerns for a safe environment.”