The U.S. Supreme Court last week denied a government request to stay a climate change lawsuit filed three years ago by a group of young people, allowing the legal action to move forward in federal district court in Oregon.
Kelsey Juliana, a 22-year-old plaintiff in the case, told national news media that the case Juliana v. United States is back on track. For the past 50 days, the case had been scheduled to begin on Oct. 29 in the U.S. District Court in Eugene, OR.
The lawsuit seeks to compel the federal government to do more to address climate change at a time when the Trump administration has denied there is a problem.
The fossil fuel industry at one point entered the lawsuit as intervenors, but they were released from the case last year by the Eugene district court. They joined the federal government in trying to dismiss the case.
The plaintiffs allege that the federal government knew the Earth was warming as early as 1965, and seek a court order for the government to decrease carbon dioxide emissions and to create a national plan to address climate change. The pending trial was delayed by a federal government emergency request to the court.
In Friday's ruling, Chief Justice John Roberts said that "although the Ninth Circuit has twice denied the [federal] government's request for mandamus relief, it did so without prejudice, [and] the court's basis for denying relief rested, in large part, on the early stage of the litigation." Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch were opposed to letting the case proceed.
The past denial, the court order noted, was based on the conclusion that it was likely that plaintiffs' claims would narrow as the case progressed, lowering the possibility of "attaining relief through ordinary dispositive motions." But last Friday's order concluded that "those reasons are, to a large extent, no longer pertinent."
The lawsuit alleges that the federal government encouraged the production of oil, natural gas and other fossil fuels, causing the planet to warm and infringing upon several of the plaintiffs' fundamental rights.
The Trump administration has attacked the suit's "sweeping and unprecedented legal theories," speculating that an eventual court ruling in this case could usurp the role of Congress and federal agencies in setting national energy and environmental policies.
In July, the U.S. Supreme Court denied another Trump administration request to block the lawsuit from moving forward, saying that the request was premature.
Roberts said in his order that the government can still seek to have the case halted through the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, although it has denied previous attempts to stop the case before trial.