• 9th Circ. had said courts can't mandate broad policy changes
  • Judge said declaratory relief is enough

(Reuters) - An Oregon federal judge on Thursday revived a lawsuit filed by 21 young Americans aiming to hold the U.S. government accountable for its fossil fuel-friendly policies that contribute to climate change.

U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken in Eugene allowed the youth plaintiffs to trim their lawsuit to ask only for a judgment declaring that national energy policy violates their rights to a "stable climate system capable of sustaining human life."

The plaintiffs, who argue the government has continued to permit, authorize and subsidize fossil fuel extraction and

consumption despite knowledge that those actions cause catastrophic global warming, had earlier sought an injunction ordering the U.S. to phase out policies like subsidies for oil companies.

The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the case in 2020 saying the judiciary can't mandate broad policy changes, which are best left to Congress and the executive branch.

The plaintiffs then asked Aiken for a chance to amend their complaint in 2021, saying they would seek only a declaratory judgment from the court that the policies violate their rights to due process and equal protection under the U.S. Constitution.

The government opposed the plaintiffs' bid to amend their complaint, saying it's "substantially identical" to issues the parties already litigated, and that the plaintiffs didn't have standing to sue because lawsuits need to involve harms that can be remedied by a court.

Aiken on Thursday said the U.S. Supreme Court had "long recognized" that declaratory judgments alone could be considered a sufficient remedy. The plaintiffs had established standing since the courts could provide the relief they're now seeking.

Julia Olson, an attorney representing the youths, said the decision means the case is likely going to trial, unless the U.S. Department of Justice continues to employ "extreme tactics to delay, deny, and oppose these youths’ right to have their evidence heard at trial."

The DOJ didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

The young people were between the ages of 8 and 19 when they sued the government in 2015, claiming the U.S. had “willfully ignored” the dangers of climate change-causing policies.

Aiken had previously signaled sympathy for the plaintiffs’ position, saying in 2016 that federal courts “too often have been cautious and overly deferential” to industry and government interests, and “the world has suffered for it.”

The case is Juliana v. USA, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, case No. 6:15-cv-01517.

For the kids: Julia Olson and Andrea Rodgers of Our Children's Trust

For the U.S.: Assistant U.S. Attorney General Todd Kim, Sean Duffy and Frank Singer of the U.S. Department of Justice

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Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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