Teens sue federal government over climate change

Activists hold signs as they participate in the Power Shift '09 rally on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol March 2, 2009 in Washington, D.C. A group of teenagers is taking the U.S. government to court for not responding to climate change. Can individuals really use the government?

Jeremy Hobson: A group of climate activists -- including five teenagers -- are suing the federal government. They head to court today using an unusual legal strategy to fight greenhouse gas emissions.

Marketplace's Eve Troeh reports.


Eve Troeh: Meet lead plaintiff Alec Loorz.

Alec Loorz: I'm 17 years old and I'm a climate change activist.

Here he is in a YouTube video about his lawsuit.

Loorz: This is not about politics or money, this is about the survival of my generation.

Loorz and four other teens say current levels of greenhouse gas pollution violate their right to a healthy environment in the future.

Vicki Arroyo: Saying, wait a minute, you've essentially used up some of the resources we need.

Vicki Arroyo directs the Georgetown Law Climate Center. She says the case uses something called public trust doctrine to demand the U.S. cut carbon emissions by 6 percent a year. A decision in their favor would mean using a lot less oil and gas, right away.

Industy lobbyists say the power to dictate that sits with the Environmental Protection Agency, not a judge. Michael Gerrard at Columbia's Center for Climate Change Law says the court will likely agree.

Michael Gerrard: This is a major longshot.

He says Congress authorized the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases, not courts. But it's because Congress failed to pass climate change legislation that these kids are in court to begin with.

I'm Eve Troeh for Marketplace.

About the author

Eve Troeh is News Director at WWNO-FM in New Orleans, La., helping build the first public radio news department in the station’s 40-year history. She reported for the Marketplace Sustainability Desk from 2010 to 2013.

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