In April, a King County judge ruled in favor of eight youths who sued the state over its failure to use current science in greenhouse gas reduction goals. Judge Hollis Hill ordered the state to release a rule capping the state’s greenhouse gas emissions by the end of the year. She also ordered the Department of Ecology to make recommendations to the state legislature on updating its climate goals during the next legislative session.
The ruling was a major win for the young climate activists and Our Children’s Trust, the climate nonprofit lending them legal support. At the time, even Governor Jay Inslee released a statement labeling the ruling “a call to act on climate.” But now, the Department of Ecology is appealing Judge Hill's decision.
The Department of Ecology says that it’s appealing the ruling to make sure it has enough time to develop the carbon cap rule. “One of the things that’s important in a rule-making process is that we need a rule to be strong and durable, and the public needs an opportunity to influence the outcome,” Ecology spokesperson Camille St. Onge told The Stranger. “A court-ordered deadline would hamper that.”
The state had been working on drafting a carbon cap rule before Judge Hill’s ruling, but temporarily took the draft plan offline in February to confer with more stakeholders—including industry. Ecology still said that it expected to have a rule finalized by this summer. When Ecology released an updated draft of the rule that made significant concessions to industry earlier this month, the plaintiffs in the youth climate case railed against it.
"The goal is absolutely in violation of any climate recovery pathway,” Michael Foster, the father of two of the climate case youths, said. “And if we follow this plan for just a few years, we slam the door on an entire generation of kids who think that they're protected by this rule."
Julia Olson, the executive director of Our Children’s Trust, called Ecology’s and Governor Inslee’s efforts “greenwashing.”
“First, Inslee’s proposed rule would lock in unacceptable levels of pollution and catastrophic harm to the young people of Washington,” Olson said in a statement. “And now, after using the youth’s court victory as a campaign platform, Inslee’s administration is trying to get the court ruling overturned. We need courage and leadership right now, not gamesmanship and half-baked plans. Survival is at stake. Get on board governor, or get out of the way.”
St. Onge, the Ecology spokesperson, said that the state still expects the rule to be finalized by the end of the summer—a schedule that doesn’t conflict with the court-ordered deadline. Nevertheless, the state is appealing the judge’s ruling in the event that they need to change the plan.
“An appeal preserves our ability to consider comments, and it is the state’s most significant environmental problem of our time,” St. Onge said. "It’s a big problem, and this is what governments need to do in order to address climate change for the future generations who are going to inherit this planet."