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Why Young Americans Are Suing Obama Over Climate Change

Repost from CNN
[Editor:  See also an update in Rolling Stone.  And check out the source at Our Children’s Trust.  – RS]

Climate kids take on the feds

By John D. Sutter, Wed March 9, 2016 10:56 PM ET
Meet the teen suing Obama over climate change 01:14

Eugene, Oregon (CNN)  >  Nearly two dozen kids — ages 8½ to 19 — appeared in federal court here on Wednesday morning. They wore nose rings and braces. Suits too big in the shoulders. Some doodled, others took copious notes. The backs of some heads barely peeked above the courtroom’s wooden benches. But these plaintiffs, however young and small, united behind a massive cause that should inspire any of us old folk: They’re suing the U.S. government — and President Barack Obama — for failing to act rapidly to stop climate change.

It’s the future suing the present.

The climate kids versus the feds.

“We sat in this courtroom today, and we have filed this lawsuit, because the leaders we have elected to take care of our planet, and to take care of our country for our generation and those to follow, are failing to do their job,” said Xiuhtezcatl Tonatiuh, a 15-year-old from Colorado who is one of the 21 young plaintiffs. “My generation is going to be inheriting the crisis we see all around us today. We are standing up not only for the environment and the Earth and the atmosphere but for the rights we have to live in a healthy, just and sustainable world.”

“We are the generation that gets to rewrite history,” he added, speaking to a crowd of more than 100 outside the courthouse. “The pen is in our hands, and we are rewriting history today.”

Meet the 15-year-old kid who's suing Obama over climate change
Related article: Meet the 15-year-old kid who is suing Obama over climate change
The climate-kids suit, which got a pretrial hearing on Wednesday before Judge Thomas Coffin, is part of a years-long campaign by a group called Our Children’s Trust.

The organization, with the support of former NASA climate scientist James Hansen and others, asserts Congress and the President have done far too little to stem the climate crisis. So they’ve taken to courts, filing petitions and complaints on behalf of young people in all 50 states, saying governments are failing to protect them and future generations from the harms of global warming.

This is the second U.S. federal court case they’ve filed (the first failed), and they’re also working internationally. The government argued before Coffin on Wednesday that the suit should be dismissed. It’s unclear when he will reach a decision.

‘This case is about survival’

“At its core, this case is about survival and whether the federal defendants can continue to threaten it,” said Julia Olson, lead attorney for the kids.

That may sound like hyperbole, but it isn’t. Scientists and the U.S. government have known for decades that burning fossil fuels and chopping down rainforests moves CO2 from the ground into the atmosphere — and too much of it makes the Earth hotter and hotter. The consequences are stark, from rising seas that could swallow island nations to deadly heatwaves, mass extinctions in the natural world and the spread of diseases.

Lives and property are at risk, and since climate change only gets worse as we pump more pollution into the atmosphere, young people have far more at stake than older folks.

For future humans, the very habitability of the planet is in jeopardy.

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The federal complaint in Oregon, which the government and fossil fuel industries have asked the judge to dismiss, says the constitutional rights of these young people — including the right to life, liberty and property — are being violated. Furthermore, the climate kids’ attorneys also say they’re being discriminated against as young people who have the most to lose as climate change gains steam over time but who have little or no voice in the political process.

“This is an intergenerational issue,” Hansen, former director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and current head of the climate science program at Columbia’s Earth Institute, told me. “It’s a case where our actions will affect our grandchildren and their children.”

Children speak to their fears of a difficult future

His granddaughter, Sophie, is among the plaintiffs. Pretty much all of them can list specific ways in which climate change is messing up their lives.

One young man, Alex Loznak, 19, grew up on a farm his ancestors settled after crossing the Oregon Trail. He’s worried it may not survive or won’t be as productive because of drought. Levi Draheim, the 8½-year-old (his mom told me he likes it when you include the ½) fears his family’s property in Florida, where he lives, will be swallowed up by the rising tides associated with warmer temperatures and melting glaciers.

Others have witnessed wildfires and hurricanes.

“There’s no way that it can’t work,” Victoria Barrett, a 16-year-old from New York, said of the lawsuit. “We are going to be here when (older generations) are not.

“We’re going to be dealing with the issues they leave behind.”

The suit names a lot of old people and institutions as defendants. There’s President Obama, several federal agencies, including the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency, and the heads of some of those agencies. The complaint is asking the court to order the U.S. government to develop a plan to fight catastrophic climate change — and to stop contributing to the problem.

While there have been some reforms, one quarter of fossil fuels extracted in the United States in 2013 came from public lands, the suit says, and the government is actively working to permit the production, use and export of these dangerous fuels, according to the complaint.

True, the Obama administration has supported policies to fight climate change, including the Paris Agreement in December and a (legally disputed) plan to clean up coal-fired power plants. But these actions are not nearly enough to prevent catastrophic warming, which is usually regarded as more than 2 degrees Celsius of warming above pre-industrial levels.

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There are scholars who think only courts will do the trick.

“We are at a point with climate where nature’s math — the carbon math — counts,” said Mary Wood, faculty director of the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Program at the University of Oregon and who is not directly involved in the case. “And we have to be sure everything adds up. Only a court is positioned to do that. The administration is not doing that. Its efforts, while important, fall short. … The time for slow incremental steps is over.”

The attorneys for the climate kids also are trying to prove that the atmosphere is an asset held in public trust by the government and that federal agencies have a duty to protect it.

On this and other points, the feds made their opposition abundantly clear.

‘No constitutional right to a pollution-free environment’

“There simply is no constitutional right to a pollution-free environment,” a U.S. Department of Justice attorney said, arguing these matters should be left to the president and Congress.

“The federal courts are not a proper forum in which to raise generalized grievances about federal policies,” the DOJ attorney said. He added that there is a “massive gap” between the harms the plaintiffs are alleging and the federal government’s actual actions; that companies and governments outside the United States contribute to the problem, too; and that young people should not be treated as a special class for discrimination in this or other cases.

The message: Sorry, kids, maybe next time?

An attorney representing fossil fuel industry associations also generally sided with the Obama administration in court. So, really, it was Obama and Dirty Energy versus the future.

The symbolism was striking, and it wasn’t lost on the young plaintiffs.

“It was a lot of big words. It was hard to follow,” Avery McRae, a 10-year-old plaintiff wearing a peacoat and gold-colored slippers, told me after court. “They (the defense and intervening attorneys) care more about their business than they do about the future of our generation.”

McRae, who’s from Eugene, Oregon, where the motion to dismiss the case was heard, became interested in climate change after she read a book about snow leopards and found out that climate change was among the factors threatening their survival.

“A few years ago, when she was young,” her mom told me (as if she’s not young now), McRae took that knowledge and held a party in honor of the imperiled snow leopards, raising $300 for a conservation group.

She then did the same for wolves and salmon.

Wednesday morning, the 10-year-old was drawing horses and singing along to musicals before going to federal court. Her mother, Holly McRae, told me it was almost “sad” to see her bright-eyed daughter sitting in such a sterile, wood-paneled environment in front of a federal judge. “It was surreal, really,” said her father, Matt McRae.

But they’re also immeasurably proud.

They hope her presence will help compel the judge to reject the government’s motion to dismiss the case — and to move it to trial.

Maybe it will be an important step toward climate justice.

As she watched the proceedings, Holly McRae thought about what the judge must be seeing as he heard oral arguments from the three attorneys.

Two rows of young children staring back at him.

The faces of the future.

Senate Republicans pushing 3-year delay for rail safety System

Repost from the New York Times

Senate to Debate 3-Year Delay for Rail Safety System

By Michael D. Shear, July 23, 2015
An Amtrak Acela train in New York bound for Pennsylvania Station. Amtrak has said it will complete installation of an advanced safety system for its trains in the Northeast Corridor by the current December 2015 deadline. Credit David Boe/Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Two months after the high-speed derailment of an Amtrak train killed eight people and injured hundreds more in Philadelphia, a Senate transportation bill headed for debate this week calls for a three-year delay of the deadline for installing a rail safety system that experts say would have almost certainly prevented the Pennsylvania accident.

Lawmakers from the Northeast and train safety experts expressed outrage over the provision, which is included in the 1,000-page legislation to finance highway and transit projects for the next three years. Several lawmakers vowed to fight the extension of the deadline to install the safety system, called positive train control, beyond December 2015.

“It should be done immediately. There shouldn’t be an extension,” said Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York. “Given the high number of accidents, and given the fact that P.T.C. is really effective, they should stick with 2015.”

Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, said he was “deeply disturbed about yet another delay in a potential safety measure” until December 2018 and said the provision in the transportation bill “essentially makes the deadline a mirage.”

In 2008, after decades of delay, lawmakers gave railroad companies, including Amtrak, seven years to complete installation of the safety system, which monitors the speed of trains and automatically slows them down if they approach curves at dangerously high speeds.

The Amtrak train that derailed in Pennsylvania was going 106 miles an hour, more than twice the speed limit, when it careened off the tracks.

Since the accident, Amtrak has said it will meet the existing deadline for installing and activating the safety systems in the busy Northeast Corridor. Craig S. Schulz, a spokesman for the railroad, said Thursday that Amtrak “remains committed” to making good on that promise.

But many railroads across the country still have not installed and activated the necessary equipment and would face federal fines and other mandates if they continued operating past Dec. 31 without it.

The transportation spending measure in the Senate would require railroads to submit plans to the secretary of transportation that include installation of positive train control by the end of 2018.

The willingness to give railroads more time is especially galling to lawmakers from the Northeast, where the Pennsylvania accident highlighted the dangers to millions of riders in the most heavily traveled train corridor in the nation.

Mark V. Rosenker, a former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates train accidents, said he was outraged by the provision and blamed railroads’ lobbyists for pressuring lawmakers to include it.

“Obviously, the railroad lobbyists have gotten to Congress,” Mr. Rosenker said. “We just had a horrible accident. People died and people ended up becoming paralyzed when that technology was available to the railroad. I am very disappointed.”

Senator Bob Casey, Democrat of Pennsylvania, also commented on the timing of the proposal. “The idea that a provision to delay positive train control was slipped into this bill just a short time after the Amtrak 188 derailment is shocking and wrong,” he said. “Delaying P.T.C. is a bad idea, and this provision should be stripped out immediately.”

Officials at the Transportation Department are continuing to insist that railroads meet the current end-of-the-year deadline. And at the White House, the press secretary, Josh Earnest, spoke of concerns “about some of the safety provisions that are included in the bill” and said the administration would take a close look at those provisions.

But pressure is mounting in both parties to pass the transportation bill before the Highway Trust Fund runs out of money for road projects across the country. That could happen this summer if Congress does not approve a new long-term authorization for transportation spending. If the Senate passes its measure, it still must win passage in the House as well.

Several senators said concern about the rail safety provision could become a central part of the debate over the bill in the days ahead. Mr. Blumenthal said he disliked the language extending the deadline for railroads to install positive train control.

But in an interview, he said he might be able to accept a new deadline if Congress agreed to dedicate money from the Highway Trust Fund specifically for installation of the rail safety systems, especially for commuter train systems that are struggling to afford the equipment.

Mr. Blumenthal said he intended to propose amendments that would dedicate $570 million a year for three years to commuter-rail safety improvements. He said it was unclear whether Republicans, who control the Senate, would allow the amendments to be offered. And he said it was not certain how hard the Obama administration was willing to fight for them.

“I’m hoping they will lend the full weight of their authority,” he said. “It would make a difference.”

Backers of the deadline extension say they need it because the equipment is costly and time-consuming to install across thousands of miles of track.

They also say the provision gives the transportation secretary authority to reject railroad improvement plans on a case-by-case basis, which they said could leave some railroads subject to the current 2015 deadline. And they said the bill authorized the Transportation Department to prioritize money for rail safety even though it does not guarantee a specific amount of money to be spent from the trust fund.

Ed Greenberg, a spokesman for the Association of American Railroads, which represents freight and commuter systems, praised the provision, saying in a statement that it “sets a rigorous case-by-case framework with enforceable milestones that guarantees sustained and substantial progress, complete transparency and accountability, and a hard end date for full installation by 2018.”

But advocates of greater safety measures for trains said the railroads had been under orders to upgrade their safety systems for years and should have been able to meet the 2015 deadline, which was set by Congress after a California derailment in 2008 that killed 25 people.

Mr. Rosenker, who was acting chairman of the transportation safety board when the crash happened, said the seven-year deadline set by Congress after that crash should not be extended.

“Seven years, in my judgment, is a long time and an adequate time to do it,” he said. “The technology is out there. Let’s put it in.”


Obama’s two faces on climate change

By Roger Straw, Editor, The Benicia Independent

ObamaTwoSidesDear President Obama: I read two articles about you in this morning’s news.  What’s wrong here?  You are all worried about climate change as it relates to national security, but not as it relates to climate change itself??!  See below …

OBAMA: It’s real!

Climate change a threat to national security, Obama warns

Associated Press, SFGate (San Francisco Chronicle), 5/20/15

NEW LONDON, Conn. — President Obama has argued for action on climate change as a matter of health, environmental protection and international obligation. On Wednesday, he added national security.

Those who deny global warming are putting at risk the United States and the military sworn to defend it, he told cadets at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. Failure to act would be “dereliction of duty,” their commander in chief said.

He said climate change and rising sea levels jeopardize the readiness of U.S. forces and threaten to aggravate social tensions and political instability around the globe.

The president’s message to climate change skeptics was unequivocal: “Denying it or refusing to deal with it undermines our national security”

“Make no mistake, it will impact how our military defends our country,” Obama said on a crisp, sunny morning at Cadet Memorial Field. “We need to act and we need to act now.”

Seated before him were 218 white-uniformed graduates, pondering where military service will take them in life.

Obama drew a line from climate change to national security that had multiple strands:

• Increased risk of natural disasters resulting in humanitarian crises, with the potential to increase refugee flows and worsen conflicts over food and water.
• Aggravating conditions such as poverty, political instability and social tensions that can lead to terrorist activity and other violence.
• New threats to the U.S. economy from rising oceans that threaten thousands of miles of highways, roads, railways and energy facilities.
• New challenges for military bases and training areas from seas, drought and other conditions.

Preparing for and adapting to climate change won’t be enough, he said. “The only way the world is going to prevent the worst effects of climate change is to slow down the warming of the planet.”

He laid out his administration’s steps to reduce carbon greenhouse gas emissions, including strict limits on emissions from vehicles and power plants. The government expects those emission reductions to provide the U.S. contribution to a global climate treaty that world leaders are expected to finalize in December. Obama said it doesn’t take a scientist to know that climate change is happening.

The evidence is “indisputable,” he said.

OBAMA: Eh, well …

Eugene Robinson: Obama drills a hole in his climate policy

By Eugene Robinson, The Contra Costa Times, 05/19/2015

Here are two facts that cannot be reconciled: The planet has experienced the warmest January-March on record, and the Obama administration has authorized massive new oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean.

“Climate change can no longer be denied … and action can no longer be delayed,” President Barack Obama said in an Earth Day address in the Everglades. Indeed, Obama has been increasingly forceful in raising the alarm about heat-trapping carbon emissions. “If we don’t act,” he said in Florida, “there may not be an Everglades as we know it.”

Why, then, would the Obama administration give Royal Dutch Shell permission to move ahead with plans for Arctic offshore drilling? Put simply, if the problem is that we’re burning too much oil, why give the green light to a process that could produce another million barrels of the stuff per day, just ready to be set alight?

Please hold the pedantic lectures about how the global oil market works: Demand will be met, if not by oil pumped from beneath the Arctic Ocean then by oil pumped from somewhere else. By this logic, the administration’s decision is about energy policy — promoting U.S. self-sufficiency and creating jobs — rather than climate policy. The way to reduce carbon emissions, according to this view, is by cutting demand, not by restricting supply.

But we are told by scientists and world leaders, including Obama, that climate change is an urgent crisis. And on the global scale — the only measure that really matters — the demand-only approach isn’t working well enough.

The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is an astounding 40 percent higher than it was at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, when large-scale burning of fossil fuels began. Fourteen of the 15 warmest years on record have occurred this century, with 2014 measured as the warmest of all. And the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced last month that January through March 2015 were the warmest first three months of the year ever recorded.

It’s not that demand-side efforts are entirely ineffectual against climate change; without them, emissions and temperatures would be rising even faster. But it is hard to argue that the current approach is doing enough.

If we are going to avert the kind of temperature rise that climate scientists say would be catastrophic, some of the oil, coal and natural gas buried in the ground will have to stay there.

“Drill, baby, drill” was a slogan Republicans used during the 2008 campaign, but it became a reality under Obama. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, domestic oil production zoomed from 5.4 million barrels a day in 2009 to 8.7 million barrels a day last year, a level not seen since the waning days of the Reagan administration.

Obama has opened vast new lands and offshore tracts to oil drilling. To be fair, he has also put some sensitive areas off-limits, including in the Arctic. But overall, under Obama, the United States has come to threaten the likes of Saudi Arabia and Russia for supremacy in fossil-fuel production.

This is part of what Obama calls his “all of the above” energy strategy, in which he fosters growth and innovation in renewable energy sectors, such as solar and wind, while also promoting U.S. self-sufficiency.

Anticipated rules from the Environmental Protection Agency limiting emissions at coal-fired power plants may go a long way toward reducing the nation’s carbon footprint. But given the urgency, why shouldn’t Obama also take such an approach to climate change? Why not attack the supply side of the equation by firmly deciding to keep drilling rigs out of the Arctic Ocean?

The environmental risk alone would justify saying no to Shell’s plans; a big spill would be a disaster. But even if Arctic oil can be exploited without mishap, we’re talking about billions of gallons of oil being added to a market that is currently glutted. It doesn’t matter whether that oil is eventually burned in New York or New Delhi, in Los Angeles or Lagos.

If we don’t take a stand in the Arctic, then where? And if not now, when?

Eugene Robinson is a syndicated columnist.

Obama Administration Approves Shell’s Arctic Drilling Plans

Press Release from Sierra Club

Obama Administration Approves Shell’s Arctic Drilling Plans

Monday, May 11, 2015
Contact:  Virginia Cramer, 804-519-8449, virginia.cramer@sierraclub.org

WASHINGTON, DC– The Obama administration granted approval today for Shell Oil to move ahead with plans to drill in the Arctic’s Chukchi Sea.  The decision comes against a backdrop of growing opposition in Seattle and across the country to Arctic drilling, and just as the U.S. assumes leadership of the Arctic Council.

In response Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club issued the following statement.

“We are deeply disappointed that just days after the United States took over chairmanship of the Arctic Council, an international body dedicated to protecting the Arctic environment, the Obama Administration decided to allow Shell to move forward with its dirty and dangerous plan to drill in our Arctic waters. This is exactly the wrong message to send to the world.

“Shell’s poor track record in the Arctic does not inspire confidence in its ability to drill safely in the unique and harsh environment of  America’s Arctic Ocean. In fact, an analysis by the Obama administration itself  predicts a 75% chance of a major oil spill if Shell is allowed to drill in America’s Arctic Ocean.

“Both science and common sense is crystal clear in telling us that undeveloped dirty fuels, especially those in the Arctic, must remain in the ground if we are to avoid the worst consequences of climate disruption. Downplaying the threats drilling poses to our climate, communities, and environment — as Shell continues to do — does not in reality make the threats any less serious. The Obama administration must say no to drilling in America’s Arctic Ocean, cancel these leases, and remove future leasing from the five-year offshore drilling plan.”


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