Photo of Texas State Capital by Stu Seegar via flickr
Everything is bigger in Texas, including environmental headlines. Nearly one year after several young plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in state court, Texas District Judge Gisela Triana ruled that the atmosphere we all share is, indeed, a public trust to be protected by the State.
Represented by Adam Abrams with the Texas Environmental Law Center, three Texas youth initially proposed a rule that would require reductions in statewide carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels in an effort to prevent or reduce the effects of climate change. The foundation of their argument was that the atmosphere should be considered part of the public trust, which currently protects bodies of water and wildlife. The public trust doctrine has been respected throughout history, dating back to the Roman Empire. Until recently, it has not been applied to protect the air or atmosphere.
The initial lawsuit from 2011 is part of a legal action in 49 states and the District of Columbia against the federal government on behalf of youth who are concerned that, left unchecked, current carbon emissions will lead to catastrophic climate change. Deeply concerned for their futures, these youth are determined to hold state and federal governments responsible for protecting the public welfare that is connected to the health of the planet.
Judge Triana states in her written decision: “The Court will find that the Commission’s conclusion, that the public trust doctrine is exclusively limited to the conservation of water, is legally invalid. The doctrine includes all natural resources of the State.” Even more astonishing is that this decision came down only weeks after D.C.’s Court of Appeals ruled against the State of Texas, upholding the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. The court affirmed the EPA’s “Endangerment Finding,” which concludes that greenhouse gases cause global climate change, which in turn, threatens human health and survival.
These are promising wins for the movement. We must continue to pressure courts that side with science and support the politicians who dare speak the words “climate change”. As Adam Abrams, said, “For the benefit of a healthy planet and for future generations, the finger pointing and pushing of political agendas needs to give way to innovative solutions and effective government action that address the threats we all face from climate change. Simply, it’s time for our leaders to protect the public trust.”