Environmental Law

Oregon Supreme Court rejects climate change lawsuit that cites public trust doctrine

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The Oregon Supreme Court has rejected claims that the public trust doctrine imposes broad duties on the state to protect the environment from greenhouse gas emissions.

The state supreme court ruled 6-1 Thursday against Kelsey Juliana and Ollie Chernaik, who were teens when they filed the climate change lawsuit, report Courthouse News Service, KLCC and the Portland Business Journal.

The state supreme court said the public trust doctrine applies to navigable waters and submerged and submersible lands under those waters but not to wildlife and the atmosphere. The court said the doctrine could be modified over time, it declined to do so at this time.

“In this case, therefore, we do not impose broad fiduciary duties on the state, akin to the duties of private trustees, that would require the state to protect public trust resources from effects of greenhouse gas emissions and consequent climate change,” the court said in the Oct. 22 opinion.

In a dissent, Oregon Supreme Court Chief Justice Martha Walters said “the time is now” for the court to act.

Our Children’s Trust represented the plaintiffs.

“Our climate, our waters, and our drying forests do not have years to wait,” a lawyer for the plaintiffs said in a statement to KLCC. “Children do not have years to wait. We are considering a petition for rehearing in light of the majority’s mischaracterization of our case and the errors of law.”

The case is Chernaik v. Brown.

See also:

ABA Journal: “Lawyers are unleashing a flurry of lawsuits to step up the fight against climate change”

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