© 2024 KUNR
Celebrating 60 years in Northern Nevada and the Eastern Sierra
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

18 California children are suing the EPA over climate change

Lead claimant Rikki Held, 22, confers with members of Our Children's Trust legal team before the start of the nation's first youth climate change trial at Montana's First Judicial District Court on June 12, 2023 in Helena, Montana.
William Campbell
/
Getty Images
Lead claimant Rikki Held, 22, confers with members of Our Children's Trust legal team before the start of the nation's first youth climate change trial at Montana's First Judicial District Court on June 12, 2023 in Helena, Montana.

Eighteen California children are suing the Environmental Protection Agency, claiming it violated their constitutional rights by failing to protect them from the effects of climate change. This is the latest in a series of climate-related cases filed on behalf of children.

The federal lawsuit is called Genesis B. v. United States Environmental Protection Agency. According to the lawsuit, the lead plaintiff "Genesis B." is a 17-year-old Long Beach, California resident whose parents can't afford air conditioning.

As the number of extreme heat days increases, the lawsuit says Genesis isn't able to stay cool in her home during the day. "On many days, Genesis must wait until the evening to do schoolwork when temperatures cool down enough for her to be able to focus," according to the lawsuit.

The other plaintiffs range in age from eight to 17 and also are identified by their first names and last initials because they are minors. For each plaintiff, the lawsuit mentions ways that climate change is affecting their lives now, such as wildfires and flooding that have damaged landscapes near them and forced them to evacuate their homes or cancel activities.

"Time is slipping away, and the impact of the climate crisis is already hitting us directly. We are running from wildfires, being displaced by floods, panicking in hot classrooms during another heat wave," 15-year-old plaintiff Noah said in a statement provided by the non-profit, public interest law firm Our Children's Trust, which filed the suit.

The lawsuit comes on the heels of a legal victory in another suit that Our Children's Trust filed on behalf of children. This summer, a state judge in Montana handed Our Children's Trust an historic win. The judge found the state violated 16 young plaintiffs' "right to a clean and healthful environment." That case is being appealed.

The California federal case claims the EPA violated the children's constitutional rights by allowing carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels to warm the climate. It notes the agency's 2009 finding that carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, is a public health threat, and children are the most vulnerable.

"There is one federal agency explicitly tasked with keeping the air clean and controlling pollution to protect the health of every child and the welfare of a nation—the EPA," said Julia Olson, chief legal counsel for Our Children's Trust in the statement. "The agency has done the opposite when it comes to climate pollution, and it's time the EPA is held accountable by our courts for violating the U.S. Constitution."

An EPA spokesperson said because of the pending litigation, the agency could not comment on the lawsuit.

The lawsuit does not specifically seek financial compensation, other than plaintiff costs and attorneys' fees. It asks instead for various declarations about the environmental rights of children and the EPA's responsibility to protect them.

Our Children's Trust filed a different federal lawsuit in 2015, Juliana v. United States, against the entire government. It was dismissed in 2020 and revived by an Oregon judge this summer. The group also has legal actions pending in Florida, Hawaii, Utah and Virginia.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jeff Brady is a National Desk Correspondent based in Philadelphia, where he covers energy issues and climate change. Brady helped establish NPR's environment and energy collaborative which brings together NPR and Member station reporters from across the country to cover the big stories involving the natural world.