Children’s climate lawsuit: Appeal asserts FL has a duty to curb greenhouse gases

Greenhouse gases in Earth's atmosphere continue to increase. Modest efforts to reduce air pollution have failed to stop the growing accumulation, leading to demands for drastic measures. Credit: Getty Images

Attorneys for eight young Floridians who are trying to sue the state over energy policies they blame for climate change have filed an appeal of a trial judge’s ruling that the courts cannot rule on what is essentially a political question.

The children and young adults, led by plaintiff Delaney Reynolds, contend the state is failing to protect the atmosphere from pollution that causes climate change and so is depriving them of the right to grow up in a healthy world.

Eight young Floridians allege the state of Florida is violating their “right” to a habitable climate. Lead plaintiff Delaney Reynolds is at center. Photo: DelaneyReynolds.com

In a brief filed Wednesday with the Florida 1st District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee, they argue that because of their age, exercising political influence isn’t an option for them.

“The effect of the circuit court’s decision is to close the courthouse doors to children who have no other means of petitioning their government for redress,” the brief argues.

Circuit Judge Kevin Carroll had expressed sympathy for the young people in dismissing their lawsuit on June 1, saying of their complaints, “I think they’re legitimate.”

A group of eight attorneys led by Our Children’s Trust, a public interest law firm, represent the youths and filed the original complaint in 2018, naming officials including Gov. Ron DeSantis, Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried, and Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein.

That case argues that state government, by presiding over an energy system run on fuels that cause greenhouse gases, is violating their fundamental rights under the Florida Constitution to life and liberty. The state owes its citizens a “public trust” obligation to protect the atmosphere, just as they are required to protect public lands and navigable waters, they assert.

At trial, lawyers for DeSantis and the other state leaders argued the public trust doctrine doesn’t extend to the atmosphere.

“The court, in our balance-of-powers system, acts as a check on the executive and legislative branches of governments for constitutional compliance,” Wednesday’s brief argues.

“Appellants [the young people] have thus appropriately requested that the court declare the extent of the youths’ constitutional and public trust rights and order the government appellees to comply with their constitutional obligations.”