Judge tosses climate change lawsuit against Trump, says he won't tell the President what to do

By Scott Holland | Mar 11, 2019


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PHILADELPHIA —  Tasked with deciding a climate change lawsuit brought on behalf of children, a federal judge says he won’t supervise the White House’s actions on the environment.

In an opinion issued Feb. 19, Judge Paul Diamond granted the federal government’s motion to dismiss a complaint in which the Clean Air Council sought a declaration that President Trump and several cabinet officials and federal agencies would violate individual citizens’ rights by rolling back certain environmental regulations and through related personnel and budget changes.

Acting on behalf of two minors, the Philadelphia-based council sought to invoke the Fifth Amendment’s due process clause as well as the public trust doctrine. It named as defendants the United States itself as well as President Trump, secretaries of Energy and the Interior as well as those departments, and the Environmental Protection Agency and its administrator.

In its complaint, according to Diamond, the plaintiff alleged “defendants cannot effectuate or promulgate any rollbacks that increase the frequency and/or intensity of the life-threatening effects of climate change based on junk science.”

The council said one of the minor plaintiffs is a 7-year-old Philadelphia resident with severe seasonal allergies. The other is an 11-year-old Chester County resident who experiences anxiety about climate change. Their complaint cited 50 years of climate change history, Diamond said, as well as specific challenges to President Trump’s March 2017 budget proposals that would reduce EPA funding, change the makeup of the EPA’s Board of Scientific Counselors, and take other steps to curb climate change advisory boards affiliated with the EPA and Energy and Interior departments.

Diamond said the council failed to show how its members would have standing to file the suit; that the 11-year-old’s anxiety is not an actionable injury; and that claims of federal climate change rollbacks having a direct actionable effect on asthma and allergy symptoms were too speculative to proceed. 

Diamond further said the complaint’s timeline is dubious given that some alleged injuries date to 2011, while the 2017 budget remains a central component.

“Remarkably,” Diamond wrote, “plaintiffs purport to trace their injuries to the president firing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and replacing him with Mike Pompeo.”

Even if the alleged injuries could be traced to the 2017 rollbacks, Diamond added, the relief they seek is no guard against future injuries. Beyond that, he said the complaint effectively asks the judicial branch to supersede the actions of the executive, further undercutting the plaintiffs’ standing to bring an Article III action.

In an alternative analysis, Diamond offered other reasons the claims aren’t viable, writing: “There is no legally cognizable due process right to environmental quality; the Ninth Amendment provides no substantive rights to sustain plaintiffs’ action; and plaintiffs’ public trust claim has no basis in law.”

The council insisted Diamond had the right to determine the executive branch violated the Constitution, but Diamond disagreed.

“There is a difference, however, between determining the constitutionality of particular executive action and regulating all statutory, regulatory, budgetary, personnel and administrative executive actions that relate to the environment,” he wrote. “The former is certainly within the province of the judiciary. The latter would make the executive a subsidiary of the judiciary.”

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