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Lawsuit could force Trump to fight climate change

Delaware Public Media

If you’re a proponent of the federal government taking a more active role in preventing climate change, you may be a little less hopeful following this election.


 But there’s a possibility the judicial branch could force President-elect Donald Trump to adopt a more climate friendly approach to governing.

A group of 21 young people in Oregon from ages 9 to 20 are suing the Obama administration for not doing enough to prevent climate change or protect natural resources.


"What the plaintiffs claim here is that there is in essence a fundamental liberty interest that the federal government has infringed upon by not developing effective policies and implementing those policies to prevent climate change," according to James May, a professor of law at Widener University Delaware Law School.


The plaintiffs are arguing the case on substantive due process, claiming the federal government has infringed on their generation's constitutional right to life, liberty and the pursuit of property.


The case also makes an argument based on something called the Public Trust Doctrine. This doctrine holds the federal government responsible for preserving shared natural resources, like rivers and lakes. The plaintiffs argue the government has failed to uphold this doctrine.


The case is unprecedented in the US, but there are successful examples of these cases around the world, including the Phillipines and the Netherlands.


May doesn’t expect the case to succeed in district court, and especially not in the US Supreme Court.


But he says it’s already inspiring similar lawsuits in state courts around the US, including one in neighboring Pennsylvania.


If the case is successful, it would require President-elect Donald Trump to develop policies that restrict greenhouse gas emissions, even though he’s a big advocate of fossil fuels.


“It would be ironic, right. It would have the Trump administration leading that conversation,” May said.


It could also keep Trump from pulling out of international climate change agreements, like the one adopted in Paris in 2015.


The case is expected to go to trial by next summer or early next fall.

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