Defending Our Climate before the Supreme Judicial Court

Veronica Eady

With leaders from around the world gathered in Paris for the international climate summit, CLF advocates are commenting on how what happens in Paris will impact what needs to happen here in New England to cut carbon, boost renewables, and protect our communities. Read the entire blog series.

On January 8, 2016, Massachusetts’ highest court will hear a landmark case brought by Conservation Law Foundation, Mass Energy Consumers Alliance, and four courageous teenagers – Isabel Kain, Shamus Miller, James Coakley, and Olivia Gieger – asking that the Global Warming Solutions Act finally be fully enforced.

Massachusetts’ Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) was passed in 2008 and is one of only a handful of laws across the country aimed at curbing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the direct cause of climate change. Among other things, the GWSA requires the state to issue regulations to ratchet down greenhouse gases in order to meet the law’s ambitious target of a 25 percent cut in emissions below 1990 levels by 2020[1]. What’s more, the law required the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to roll out these new regulations by January 1, 2012. Four years later – and with the law’s 2020 deadline fast approaching – we’re still waiting on the DEP to create those required regulations.

To Meet Global Targets, We Need Local Action Like the GWSA
In the meantime, the Earth’s carbon dioxide concentrations have reached 400 parts per million, with 2015 on track to eclipse 2014 as the warmest year in recorded history. According to scientists at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, the planet has not seen such high carbon dioxide concentrations in at least 3 million years (back in 1988 we surpassed 350 parts per million, the carbon dioxide levels considered to be safe). Scientists warn that if we don’t take action soon, it will be too late to reverse the trend.

CLF President Bradley Campbell took part in his month’s historic global climate talks in Paris, which may yield encouraging results. And, while it is proper to frame this issue globally, Brad rightly points out that solutions must be local, too. Here in Massachusetts, our state legislature gave us a solid blueprint for curbing our emissions, yet because the DEP has failed to act. Massachusetts is now at risk of failing to meet its emissions reduction goals.

Our Actions Today Will Shape Our Planet Tomorrow
Recently, a Washington state court ordered the Washington Department of Ecology to issue regulations reigning in GHGs in response to a petition by a group of children through their legal guardians. The court boldly held that the children’s “very survival depends upon the will of their elders to act now, decisively and unequivocally, to stem the tide of global warming by accelerating the reduction of emission of GHG’s before doing so becomes first too costly and then too late.”[2]

We’re hoping that Massachusetts’ Supreme Judicial Court will act just as boldly. Our legislature took an emphatic stand when it passed the GWSA and set such ambitious targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions in the state. Come January when the Massachusetts high court hears our case, we expect the justices to uphold the intent of the legislature and the integrity of the GWSA. And, come later in the century, we expect to hand off a healthier planet to our future generations.

Follow CLF President Brad Campbell’s on-the-ground updates from the Paris Climate Summit on Twitter and the Huffington Post.

[1] The GWSA also requires that GHGs be reduced by 80 percent below the 1990 baseline by 2050.
[2] Zoe and Stella Foster, et al., vs. Washington Department of Ecology, No. 14-2-2595-1 SEA at p. 5, November 19, 2015.

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