Climate & Social Justice

Students File Climate-Challenge Lawsuit Against Rhode Island


Student climate activists and concerned others recently rallied outside U.S. District Court in support of similar climate-action cases. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News photos)

PROVIDENCE — The student-led effort to force Rhode Island to get tough on climate change has taken its case to court. On Nov. 2, the group Nature’s Trust Rhode Island filed a lawsuit in Rhode Island Superior Court seeking to force the state to comply with its petition to take decisive action on climate change.

The petition was denied by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) on Oct. 5. The 200-page petition asks for a statewide plan that includes the precautionary principle, environmental justice, an emissions budget and accounting, natural carbon storage, and negative emissions.

The appeal claims that DEM did not to offer adequate reasons for denying the petition as is required for a request for an administrative action.

Students from Nature’s Trust Rhode Island have taken their climate plan to court.

The group of 12 students from second grade to graduate school vowed to press their case, as similar legal efforts play out across the country.

“Our voices have been ignored by the Rhode Island government, DEM, and court systems of the U.S. Climate change is a serious issue that cannot be ignored any longer,” said Chloe, a student petitioner and a junior at the Met High School in Providence.

On. Nov. 2, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed a major climate trial to go forward. Juliana v. United States has drawn international attention for its novel argument led by young plaintiffs who accuse the federal government of violating their constitutional rights by failing to mitigate climate change.

The case, filed in 2015, was set to proceed in U.S. District Court in Eugene, Ore., on Oct. 29 but the trial was delayed after President Trump and the Justice Department asked that the case be dismissed. The 21 plaintiffs are seeking a new trial date. The lawsuit wants the federal government to create a plan that reduces the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million by 2100. The current recorded amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is nearly 406 ppm.

In a show of support for the youth-led climate trial, local environmental groups recently rallied outside U.S. District Court in Providence. Climate Action RI/350 RI, Nature’s Trust Rhode Island, Zero Hour, and the Raging Grannies of Greater Westerly hosted the peaceful protest.

“My generation is the one that is going to be inheriting the incredibly damaging impacts of the continued burning of fossil fuels,” said Zanagee Artis, a Brown University student and co-founder of Zero Hour, a youth-run environmental activist group.

Similar youth-led legal challenges are happening across the country. On Oct. 30, a case in Alaska was dismissed by state Superior Court. A similar case was dismissed in the State of Washington in August.

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