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Utah youths’ climate lawsuit thrown out by state judge

By Mark Shenefelt - | Nov 10, 2022

Harrison Epstein, Daily Herald

Attorney Andrew Welle speaks during a demonstration in Washington Square Park in Salt Lake City on Friday, Nov. 4, 2022.

SALT LAKE CITY — A judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by a group of Utah children and young adults who say the state is violating their civil rights and threatening their lives by promoting environmentally ruinous fossil fuels development.

Neither the Utah or U.S. Constitution “addresses anything about fossil fuels or global climate change which would permit the court to grant a judicial remedy,” said 3rd District Judge Robert Faust in his ruling Wednesday against the action brought by seven youths.

Faust heard arguments on Nov. 4, with attorney Andrew Welle, of the advocacy group Our Children’s Trust, representing the children, asserting that the state government “is responsible for vast quantities of air pollution” and it is a “core judicial responsibility” for the court to decide whether to find that the state’s policies and actions violate the students’ due process rights.

Attorney Jeffrey Teichert, representing the state Board of Oil, Gas and Mining and numerous other state government defendants, urged Faust to dismiss the suit. “The Utah Constitution does not guarantee a clean environment,” Teichert said. He said claims such as those lodged by the students “should be brought against polluters,” not the state.

Faust said in his ruling that while the children “have a valid concern,” the political question doctrine prevents the court from creating climate change and fossil fuels policy. Those matters are the responsibility of the executive and legislative branches, he said, citing several cases with similar outcomes in other states.

In reaction to the ruling, Welle and the youths on Thursday issued statements promising further action.

“Judge Faust ruled that Utah’s constitutional right to life doesn’t apply in this case. We emphatically contend this is an incorrect interpretation of the law,” Welle said. “The state of Utah cannot substantially reduce the lifespan of Utah’s children without violating their constitutional right to life. And that’s exactly what is happening here: through the permitting and promotion of fossil fuels, the state government is damaging these children’s lungs and taking years off of their lives.”

Faust’s ruling “essentially silences the children’s claims and by doing so fails to serve its essential role as a check on the political branches,” Welle said, adding that the decision will be appealed.

“We will not give up in our fight for constitutional climate justice,” said Natalie R., one of the youth plaintiffs.

“This ruling marks a very sad day for myself and all other youth across the state of Utah, as the lower court has determined that it is not interested in hearing our plea for the protection of our constitutional right to life,” said Dallin R., another youth plaintiff. “The urgency of this moment, and the gravity of this crisis make it very clear that if we as a state intend to protect the rights of our youth, and all those to come, then this ruling must be reversed.”

Efforts to reach Teichert were not immediately successful.


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