An appellate court in Washington on Tuesday overturned a previous lower court ruling that set a deadline for The Washington state Department of Ecology to create by the end of 2016 new greenhouse emissions reduction rules.
The original lawsuit was brought by several Washington state teenage activists, with help from Our Children’s Trust an advocacy group, who argued that by failing to propose stricter emissions reduction rules the Department of Ecology was causing them and future generations harm.
In November 2015, the lower court agreed with the activist’s argument that the state has a “mandatory duty” to “preserve, protect, and enhance the air quality for the current and future generations,” but did not require the agency to issue more rigorous emission-reducing rules.
The lower court ruled that the DOE was already acting to create such rules, per instructions given to the agency by Gov. Jay Inslee in July 2015.
In February 2016, the DOE withdrew its emission-reduction rules for further work, which led the teen activists to petition the court to force the agency to create new emission-reduction rules. The activists argued that without pressure from the court no such rules would come to fruition.
In May 2016, the lower court agreed with the activists.
It ruled that the agency should create rules aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions by the end of 2016, and make recommendations to the state legislature in its 2017 legislative session to better align emissions-reductions goals with current environmental science research.
In its ruling Tuesday, the appellate court found that the lower court had used improper justification and exceeded its authority by setting a timeline for the DOE to come up with new emission-reduction rules in its May 2016 ruling.
The appellate court also found that the DOE was following Washington state law when it withdrew its emission-reduction rule for further consideration.
Through its attorney, Andrea Rodgers, Our Children's Trust released the following statement:
"While we are disappointed the court didn’t uphold the trial court’s order on this day when ashes from local wildfires are raining down on Seattle, it is of little consequence since Ecology already did what they were court ordered to do. Now we look forward to prosecuting a new constitutional case against the state in order for our youth plaintiffs get science-based relief, in the form of a climate recovery plan they deserve.”