In an unprecedented federal court case that has made it to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, young people from California are suing the EPA and Departments of Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Energy and Defense under the historic public trust doctrine for failing to devise a climate change recovery plan.
In their legal brief, they argue, “Failure to rapidly reduce CO2 emissions and protect and restore the balance of the atmosphere is a violation of Youth’s constitutionally protected rights and is redressable by the Courts.”
The public trust doctrine has its roots in antquity, deriving from the Roman “Code of Justinian.” Elizabeth Brown of Our Children’s Trust, the group coordinating the legal efforts, explains that the doctrine is a duty all sovereigns have to safeguard public resources that future generations will depend on for survival. It is an “attribute of sovereignty,” “implicit in our constitution,” the “white board of our democracy,” she says.
The National Association of Manufacturers, which is intervening in support of the government agencies, argues in its brief that “in no case has any court ever invoked the doctrine to compel regulatory action by the federal government, much less adoption of a sweeping new regulatory agenda of the type sought by these plaintiffs.”