A King County Superior Court judge has ruled that the state Department of Ecology must reconsider a petition from young climate activists seeking a crackdown on state emissions of greenhouse gases.
Eight students who unsuccessfully petitioned the state Department of Ecology to crack down on carbon emissions gained an initial legal victory in King County Superior Court.
Citing what she called the “historical lack of political will to respond adequately to the urgent and dire acceleration of global warming,” Judge Hollis Hill ruled the petition must be reconsidered.
She set a July 8 deadline for the department to report back to the court.
The petition, filed by the youth activists’ attorneys, argues the Ecology Department is required to come up with tough new standards for cutting carbon emissions and put the state on a path to meet them.
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Carbon emissions resulting from fossil-fuel combustion are a major driver of climate change, and Gov. Jay Inslee has made reducing them a high-profile goal of his administration.
Inslee has been unsuccessful this year in convincing the Legislature to pass a cap- and-trade program to cut carbon emissions. That effort has been opposed by the oil industry.
The legal battle was initiated by young climate activists in elementary, middle and high school who wanted to be more involved in efforts to cut carbon emissions, according to Andrea Rodgers, of the Western Environmental Law Center.
Last year, her organization joined with Our Children’s Trust in filing the initial petition for rule-making that was rejected by the Ecology Department.
In the subsequent lawsuit, their attorneys argued that the state Department of Ecology, even without additional legislative action, already has enough authority under the Clean Air Act and other statutes to move forward with a major carbon-reduction plan.
“The Legislature has not acted, and the plain and simple truth is that somebody has to act,” said Rodgers, of the Western Environmental Law Center.
Inslee has proposed some action that does not require new legislation.
He has proposed an executive order that would lead to development of a program to reduce the carbon content in motor fuels. That proposal has generated a backlash from the oil industry, and Republicans have crafted legislative language that would try to discourage Inslee from moving ahead with it.
And, in their response to the students’ lawsuit, state attorneys did not dispute that the Ecology Department has legal authority to adopt additional greenhouse-gas standards.
But they argued the department is not required to adopt any more standards.
Hollis, in her decision, did not weigh in on the scope of the Department of Ecology’s powers to regulate carbon emission, or what — if any additional — actions should be taken.
Instead, her ruling focused more attention on another issue brought up in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit called for the state Department of Ecology to come up with more aggressive goals for reducing greenhouse gases to reflect the current, best science. The state target for 2050 is a 50 percent reduction.
The plaintiffs say the department should recommend to the Legislature a goal of 80 percent reduction by midcentury.
The judge indicated there is enough new evidence to justify the Department of Ecology’s reconsidering the children’s petition.