The lawsuit is filed by kids 20 years or younger and in partnership with Our Children’s Trust, a nonprofit based in Oregon that works with young people to bring climate-related lawsuits against state and federal governments. The case cites Scott’s “deliberate indifference” to the rights of young people in his state with respect to climate change.
Our Children’s Trust is the same organization working with a group of 21 youth plaintiffs currently suing the federal government over climate change; that case recently had its trial date set for October 29, 2018 in Eugene, Oregon.
The Florida lawsuit argues that in failing to act on climate change — and, perhaps more importantly, by taking affirmative actions to deepen the crisis — the state government has violated the youth plaintiffs constitutional rights to due process, depriving them of life, liberty, and property.
The lawsuit also claims that the state’s climate inaction has violated the public trust doctrine, which holds that the government must preserve certain commonly held resources — like shorelines or rivers — in good standing for future generations.
Florida is particularly vulnerable to the risks of climate change, especially sea level rise. Parts of the state already experience occasional flooding on high tide days, and the frequency of those floods is increasing as global sea level rises. According to a 2016 study, the number of high tide floods in Miami Beach has increased 400 percent since 2006.
Our Children’s Trust takes the concept of public trust and applies it to the atmosphere, arguing that since the atmosphere is a commonly held element, the government must work to preserve its health for future generations. By allowing — and at times, aiding — fossil fuel companies in their extraction of carbon-intensive fuels, the lawsuit argues, the government has violated the public trust doctrine.
“The reason that I’m a part of this lawsuit is because I believe that the climate change crisis is the biggest threat that my generation will ever have to face,” Delaney Reynolds, an 18-year old plaintiff from Miami, said in a press statement. “Right now we live in what I like to call the state of denial because the state of Florida is doing nothing to address climate change, but everything to cause it.”
The lawsuit argues that through affirmative actions — like supporting offshore drilling and strict regulations on solar energy — Governor Scott has violated the young people of Florida’s right to a livable climate.
Scott made headlines in 2015 when former Department of Environmental Protection employees told the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting (FCIR) that under his administration, government officials were banned from using phrases “climate change,” “global warming,” or “sustainability” in their work or reports.
In 2010, Scott said that he had “not been convinced” that climate change was a real, human-caused phenomenon. He has since skirted the issue of his acceptance of climate science, saying that he is “not a scientist.”
Scott recently announced that he would be running for U.S. Senate, challenging incumbent Bill Nelson (D-FL), Florida’s only statewide elected Democrat.
It’s unclear what kind of success the complaint will face in Florida’s court system — in 2011, Our Children’s Trust filed a petition for rule-making with the state, requesting that state agencies create a science-based emissions reduction plan, but that petition was denied. The new lawsuit, filed on Monday, also asks that the court compel the government to create a science-based Climate Recovery Plan to address the threat of climate change.
Still, Our Children’s Trust has seen notable success with its federal case, which has survived numerous dismissal attempts by both the Obama administration, against whom the lawsuit was originally filed, and the Trump administration.
In 2016, U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken ruled that the plaintiffs had sufficient standing to move forward to trial — normally a major hurdle for climate-related lawsuits — and set a trial date for February 5, 2018. That date was pushed back, however, after the Trump administration petitioned the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to intervene and overturn Aiken’s decision. The Ninth Circuit heard arguments and ultimately decided against the Trump administration’s petition, and the case appears set to head to trial this fall.
The Florida lawsuit represents another example of climate activists — and especially young people — taking to the courts to seek action on climate change. In November, two Pennsylvania youth filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration, arguing that its deregulatory environmental agenda is based on “junk science.”
And, since last summer, nine coastal cities and counties across the United States have filed lawsuits against fossil fuel companies, arguing that the companies knowingly created a public nuisance through their extractive business models. At least one political candidate in Florida has called for cities in the state to do something similar, noting that Florida is one of the most at-risk states with respect to sea level rise.
“I’ve really wanted to do something about climate change and this lawsuit is something that I can do that will help,” Isaac Augspurg, a 12-year-old plaintiff from Alachua County, said in a press statement, “Sometimes I feel like, being a kid, it’s hard to help a lot, but this has made me feel like I can actually make a difference.”