The youth -- represented, pro bono, by the Burlingame, California, law firm
of former U.S. Republican congressman Paul "Pete" McCloskey, a co-founder of
Earth Day -- filed the suit, Alec L. et.
al vs. Lisa P. Jackson, et. al, in May of last year. Defendants include not only Environmental
Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson but the heads of the Commerce, Interior,
Commerce, Defense, Energy, and Agriculture departments. This Friday, U.S.
District Court Judge Robert L. Wilkins, an Obama appointee, will hear arguments
on the defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint.
While skeptics may view the case as little more than a
publicity stunt, its implications have been serious enough to attract the time
and resources of major industry leaders. Last month, Judge. Wilkins granted a
motion to intervene in the case by the National Association of Manufacturers,
joined by Delta Construction Company, Dalton Trucking Inc., Southern California
Contractors Association, and the California Dump Truck Owners Association.
"At issue is
whether a small group of individuals and environmental organizations can
dictate through private tort litigation the economic, energy, and environmental
policies of the entire nation," wrote National Association of Manufacturers spokesman
Jeff Ostermeyer in an email. Granting the plaintiffs' demands, he added, "would
carry serious and immediate consequences for industrial and economic
productivity -- increasing manufacturing and transportation costs and decreasing
global competitiveness." The manufacturers' legal brief says the restrictions
being sought "could substantially eliminate the use of conventional energy in
this country." It also argues that the plaintiffs haven't proved they have a
legal right to sue.
The plaintiffs contend that they have standing to sue under the
"public trust doctrine," a legal theory that in past years has helped protect
waterways and wildlife. It's the reason, for example, that some state
government agencies issue licenses to catch fish or shoot deer, particularly
when populations are declining. The doctrine has never before been applied to
the atmosphere, and it's a trickier prospect, not least because the sources of
atmospheric pollution are so diffuse and wide-ranging, extending to other
countries whose actions the United States may not be able to influence.
Defense attorneys have, in fact, have argued that the plaintiffs are essentially
seeking for a court to make foreign policy decisions. To this, the
plaintiff's attorneys counter that other nations' supposed inaction on climate
change shouldn't be used as an excuse for the United States to do nothing.
"That is like saying poverty exists everywhere, other countries have poverty,
so it is ok for us to permit poverty," attorney Phil Gregory wrote in an email.