Oyez: Let Us Be Heard

Jacob wearing a mask while working on his family's farm in Oregon this summer, when the smoke from nearby wildfires made it unsafe to breathe normally outside.

Jacob wearing a mask while working on his family's farm in Oregon this summer, when the smoke from nearby wildfires made it unsafe to breathe normally outside.

By Juliana v. U.S. youth plaintiff Jacob Lebel, 20, from Roseburg, Oregon. 

On December 11, twenty-one young people, including me, along with our attorneys, sat before a three-judge panel at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. Across from us were lawyers representing the U.S. government who want very badly to shut down our constitutional climate change lawsuit, known as Juliana v. United States.

For the last two years, my co-plaintiffs, who range in age from 10 to 21, and I have been asking for one thing: to have our voices and our evidence heard at trial. We seek to prove that the U.S. government’s reckless promotion of fossil fuels is destroying our future and violating our Constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property -- rights which depend on a stable climate. 

We are already living the dangerous reality of climate change. Since we filed our suit, I have watched my friends and co-plaintiffs suffer impacts of extreme flooding and hurricanes unprecedented in frequency and magnitude. In Oregon, my 500-acre family farm where I grew up and live is threatened by increasingly intense and longer wildfire seasons driven by earlier springs, heat waves, and droughts that have also killed 30% of our conifer trees in some areas. This summer, for the first time in my life, I had to wear a mask for weeks while working outside due to the smoke.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration has made it a priority to push approval for fossil fuel infrastructure projects across the nation, including the Jordan Cove natural gas power plant and pipeline that would run directly behind my family farm and become the biggest greenhouse gas emitter in Oregon. 

The U.S. government has been leasing federal lands for the extraction of coal, oil, and gas, and heavily subsidizing the fossil fuel industry since long before I was born. It has done so while disregarding the warnings of our nation’s top scientists and despite having over five decades of rigorous expert testimony on how cumulative greenhouse gas emissions would irrevocably harm future U.S. citizens- my generation. 

Our suit’s goal is to secure a court-ordered national Climate Recovery Plan, backed by some of the world’s leading scientists, which will reduce U.S. emissions and draw down carbon. At the District Court level, we won against motions to dismiss and have been preparing for trial.

But thanks to the government’s desperate tactics to avoid trial, we have endured delay after delay. The latest is due to what’s called a “writ of mandamus petition,” a rare, last resort legal filing the Trump administration made with the Ninth Circuit in June to evade a trial date set for this coming February. 

At oral arguments in San Francisco, one of our amazing attorneys, Julia Olson argued the court should “be that impenetrable bulwark, to judicially safeguard against systemic abuses of government power that infringe on the substantive due process rights of these plaintiffs.” The stakes have never been higher. 

Trump and his cabinet won't live to see the gravest consequences of their decisions -- but my generation will. If this administration wants to continue the unjust status quo of U.S. fossil fuel policy, they’ll have to silence our voices first. We’re hoping the Ninth Circuit doesn’t let that happen, sides with the District Court, and lets our case proceed to trial.

Caitlin Howard