Update on Our Children’s Trust, Juliana case

Judge steers Juliana toward settlement

E&E News | Maxine Joselow A federal judge yesterday ordered the young challengers in the “kids’ climate case” to iron out their differences with the Biden administration outside the courtroom. The two sides in the closely watched case Juliana v. United States must enter a mediation process in the hopes of reaching a settlement, Judge Ann Aiken of the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon said during a status conference yesterday. “I do believe this case is in a position — given many things that have intervened in the year this case was on appeal and changes that have taken place legally and in the world — that it’s a moment in time that I think people should take advantage of,” the judge said. Aiken, who was appointed during the Clinton administration, also scheduled oral arguments in the case for June 25. The Juliana challengers, who are between the ages of 13 and 24, began their legal battle in 2015 under former President Obama. Their novel lawsuit sought to compel the federal government to phase out fossil fuels and recognize the kids’ rights to a stable climate system, which they said was inherently enshrined in the Constitution. The youths suffered a defeat last year, when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals “reluctantly” dismissed their case, finding that it raised questions for the political branches of government to resolve. In February, the 9th Circuit declined to rehear the case before a larger panel of its active judges. Our Children’s Trust, an Oregon-based nonprofit that represents the youths, responded by asking Aiken to narrow the scope of the original lawsuit. The group also plans to file a petition asking the Supreme Court to overturn the 9th Circuit’s ruling. That plan has prompted concern from some environmental lawyers, who say the case should not be presented to the conservative-dominated court. At the status conference yesterday, Julia Olson, chief legal officer of Our Children’s Trust, said she intends to request a 60-day extension of the deadline to file a Supreme Court petition. Olson added that she was “happy” to participate in the mediation process, which will be presided over by Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin, who is recalled from retirement and familiar with the Juliana case. Sean Duffy, a trial attorney at the Department of Justice, said the Biden administration was also willing to participate in the mediation process, provided that it will take place virtually due to pandemic precautions.

White House advisers to Biden: Equity work ‘must start today’

E&E News | Kelsey Brugger In their first report to Biden, the advisers sent nearly 100 pages of recommendations on how the federal government can aid communities that have long been overburdened by industry and other environmental hazards. Topping the list is fast and careful implementation of Justice 40, a Biden initiative that calls for 40% of climate-related investments to go to underserved communities. The advisers asserted the initiative should halt investments in fossil fuels and transition to 100% renewable electricity by 2030. They said the program “should be administered and overseen by a central unit/office that approves agency investments and monitors and tracks the investments.” That will ensure funds are spent as intended and “can audit agencies or recipients.” Environmental justice has been a pillar of the Biden administration. Early on, Biden issued an executive order calling for the creation of a 26-member advisory council, made up of veteran activists and environmentalists from across the country. The group has met virtually three times. […] Now the nitty-gritty work begins, council members say. Kyle Whyte, a University of Michigan professor, said the federal agencies and lawmakers who are going to allocate infrastructure funds “need to listen to the actual communities,” adding, “Communities know their infrastructure needs, and they need to provide the solutions.” To that end, the advisers are helping oversee the creation of a smartphone app — the Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool — to annually publish interactive maps on disadvantaged communities. The app builds on past EPA tools designed to identify areas overrun with industries. […] Ruth Santiago, a council member who is an environmental leader in Puerto Rico, said the meetings have illustrated the disconnect between the top levels of the U.S. government and communities throughout the country. “Being in these meetings, it never ceases to amaze me how little is known what is happening on the ground in Puerto Rico — in terms of how different it is and how the government can play a different role in the life-changing electric system that we need,” she said. The electric system needed in Puerto Rico looks very different from what may be needed elsewhere, she said. The island is “ground zero” for climate-fueled storm surges that have destroyed transmission lines.