PORTLAND, Ore. – Oregon-based youth climate activists say settlement talks with the U.S. Department of Justice have failed six years after they first filed a landmark federal lawsuit that attempted to hold the nation's leadership accountable for its role in global warming.
The development, announced by the plaintiffs' attorney on Monday, comes as world leaders, including President Joe Biden, meet in Scotland to grapple with climate change.
The plaintiffs now want a judge to allow an amended version of the case, known as Juliana v. the United States, to go to trial.
“These 21 young people have been stonewalled, delayed, and obstructed by their own government for six years now," the plaintiffs' attorney, Julia Olson, said in a statement. "These young people have been waiting six years to have their evidence heard and the issues determined by a court of law. When will our government act like the global leaders they claim to be and let these youth be heard?”
The youth plaintiffs alleged in the original 2015 lawsuit that they have a constitutional right to a climate that sustains life and that the U.S. government’s actions have encouraged a fossil fuel economy despite scientific warnings about global warming.
In a major victory, U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken ruled the following year that the plaintiffs had a case and that it could proceed to trial, but the lawsuit has been challenged repeatedly in federal court by the Obama and Trump administrations, which sought to get it dismissed.
A three-member panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2020 dismissed the case after finding that Aiken lacked the power to order or design a climate recovery plan in the high-profile climate change lawsuit.
They noted that such a remedy should be made by the nation’s politicians or voters.
The plaintiffs then filed an amended complaint in March and asked the judge to change their lawsuit to seek a different ruling: that the nation’s fossil fuel-based energy system is unconstitutional.
In May, Aiken ordered a settlement conference with U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin, who came out of retirement to oversee the process.
The youth plaintiffs are now between the ages of 13 and 25.