Courtroom battle for 'climate change kids' heating up
The Oregon kids who lawyered up in an attempt to avert "climate catastrophe" are preparing for a crucial courtroom test.
A three-judge panel from the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments on two separate motions on Tuesday, June 4 in Portland. An injunction — if granted — could immediately halt 100 drilling and pipeline developments poised for permits from the feds.
The other motion, an interlocutory appeal, could end the suit without the merits of the case ever being argued during a full trial. The judges are not expected to rule on the motions on Tuesday.
"We needed a decision yesterday," said Jacob Lebel, a 22-year-old who grew up on a farm south of Roseburg. "There's really no way to go but forward."
Lebel and 20 other co-plaintiffs were graduating high school when the case was first filed here in 2015. The lawsuit is predicated on the public trust, an ancient legal doctrine that requires governments to preserve natural resources for general use — though its application in the U.S. is generally limited to drinking water and recreational uses of lakes and streams.
The co-plaintiffs got a boost from student leaders and local officials during a Saturday, June 1 rally in a park across the street from the Mark O. Hatfield federal courthouse.
"Here in Portland, we are fighting alongside you," said Mayor Ted Wheeler. "We can continue to protect our environment, and in this city we have made that commitment."
Milwaukie Mayor Mark Gamba, who is mounting a primary challenge against local Democratic Rep. Kurt Schrader, touted his own credentials as a steward of the environment, noting the small town's "aggressive" climate action plan and a city employee who "works on nothing else."
Milwaukie is building electric vehicle charging stations, smart streetlights and a "microgrid" to store power in partnership with PGE. It has also passed incentives for developers to build green and created an urban tree plan that seeks to double the overall canopy.
The new library currently under construction will be a "net zero" project, and the city is slated to spend some $50 million over nine years on bicycle and pedestrian improvements.
"Maybe that's why I'm hopeful," Gamba said, "because I live in a city that has taken decisive action."
Wheeler pointed to the city's own climate action plan, recently created cleaner construction standards and requirements that the city's contractors meet stricter diesel engine standards as well as the partial ban on plastic straws.
Awkwardness ensued only when another speaker mentioned the production ramp-up at the Zenith Oil Terminal in Portland, prompting audience member Tara Hershberger to cry "Why would our mayor allow that?"
St. Mary's Academy tenth graders Devika Narendra and Lena Westlund, plus Rex Putnam freshman Jackson Calhoun and Wilson freshman Serena Best-Prostrednik helped organize the rally.
"Our vision is a world in which society is completely environmentally sustainable and the economy is built on environmental ideals," explained Best-Prostrednik.
"The human race cannot survive without a prosperous and healthy planet," added Calhoun.
Climate rally planned
Local students are planning another rally in support of Juliana v. United States at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 4, at Director Park, 815 S.W. Park Ave., in Portland. Activists will gather ahead of Ninth Circuit hearing, which begins at 2 p.m.