Crag’s young clients Kelsey Juliana (left) and Olivia Chernaik will present oral arguments in their climate change case on April 7. Photo courtesy of Todd Cooper / Eugene Weekly.

Crag’s young clients Kelsey Juliana and Olivia Chernaik will soon get their day in court, just not as soon as we had initially expected.  New Oregon Governor Kate Brown, who recently took the oath of office following John Kitzhaber’s resignation, has requested a delay in this landmark climate change lawsuit which Crag Law Center filed on behalf of the two Oregon teenagers.  The upcoming court hearing has been rescheduled from its original date of March 13 to April 7, so that Brown can review the legal brief the State of Oregon will submit to the court on her behalf.  Chris Winter will present the young women’s arguments before Judge Rasmussen in Lane County Circuit Court.

Kelsey and Olivia brought their case against Governor Kitzhaber and the State of Oregon because the State, by its own admission, is failing to meet its carbon emission reduction goals and is not acting to protect Oregon’s public trust resources and the futures of these young Oregonians. The youth ask the court for a declaration of law that the State has a fiduciary obligation to manage the atmosphere, water resources, coastal areas, wildlife and fish as public trust assets and to protect them from substantial impairment resulting from the emissions of greenhouse gases in Oregon and the resulting adverse effects of climate change and ocean acidification. In its initial motion in the case filed in January, the State renounced any obligation to protect these public resources, arguing that the public trust doctrine only prevents the State from selling off submerged lands to private interests.

Our stance is that that Governor Kitzhaber was wrong in his defense of the case.

“I hear Oregonians tell me stories about the legacy of former Governor Tom McCall and how much leadership he showed over public resources,” says Kelsey Juliana. “We can access our public beaches today because Tom McCall helped secure their protection in trust for future generations. We need that kind of leadership now from Governor Brown, and the resource most in need of protection today is our atmosphere and all the life it supports.”

After taking the oath of office as Governor, Kate Brown promised to take actions that she says are “needed to restore the public’s trust in government.”  Kelsey and Olivia are hopeful that their new Governor will take a pro-active approach on climate destabilization and respond to their plea that she act as a trustee over these essential natural resources.

“I hope Governor Brown will consider working with us and not fight this case any more. We should all be on the same side,” explained Kelsey. “This should be part of her legacy.”

Last summer, and in a nationally significant decision in their case, the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled the trial court must decide whether the atmosphere is a public trust resource that the state of Oregon, as a trustee, has a duty to protect along with recognized public trust assets such as estuaries, rivers, and wildlife.

Kelsey and Olivia’s lawsuit has gained a broad base of support across the state. Oregon’s political leaders, businesses, agricultural, conservation and student native groups came together to file an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief in support of Kelsey and Olivia’s case on appeal. Eugene’s Mayor Kitty Piercy joined Lane County and Eugene Sustainability Commissioners as amici in support of the youth plaintiffs.

Mayor Piercy, who served with Governor Brown in the Oregon legislature during the 1990s, said of the youth’s case, “Above the fray of politics, youth ask the leaders of this nation and this State to take action now on climate change. I am proud of our children, and like most Oregonians, I understand the urgency. I also know our Governor and have confidence that she will offer stewardship for our State to do our part and protect our public trust resources. This is the time for Oregon to lead.”