Fossil Fuel Industry Granted Defendant Status in Youths’ Landmark Climate Lawsuit

Girl Jump Roping and Determined to Win the Fight for Fresh Air (from Girl Soda Atlas) illustrated by K. J. Legry (featured by Girl Power Academy)
Girl Jump Roping and Determined to Win the Fight for Fresh Air (from Girl Soda Atlas) illustrated by K. J. Legry (featured by Girl Power Academy)

Fossil Fuel Industry Granted Defendant Status in Youths’ Landmark Climate Lawsuit

The newly named trade association defendants are the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM)—representing ExxonMobil, BP, Shell, Koch Industries, and virtually all other U.S. refiners and petrochemical manufacturers, American Petroleum Institute (API)—representing 625 oil and natural gas companies, and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM).

This litigation is a momentous threat to fossil fuel companies. They are determined to join the federal government to defeat the constitutional claims asserted by these youth plaintiffs. The fossil fuel industry and the federal government lining up against 21 young citizens. That shows you what is at stake here.”

The fossil fuel powerhouses call the youth’s case “extraordinary” and “a direct, substantial threat to [their] businesses.” During Wednesday’s hearing, the industry argued that a decision in favor of plaintiffs on their legal claims will require a significant restructuring of the fossil fuel business model, such as potentially invalidating thousands of leases for fossil fuel extraction and development.
In their lawsuit, the young plaintiffs assert the federal government violated their constitutional rights to life, liberty and property by allowing and facilitating the exploitation of fossil fuels. The youth have asked the court to order the federal government to prepare and implement a science-based national climate recovery plan. ~ Source: http://ecowatch.com/2016/01/14/youth-climate-change-lawsuit/

Mother Nature Character (moth and bluebell woman) illustration from Girl Soda Atlas by K. J. Legry (featured on Girl Power Academy)
Mother Nature Character (moth and bluebell woman) illustration from Girl Soda Atlas by K. J. Legry (featured on Girl Power Academy)

Earth Guardians is a Colorado-based nonprofit organization with youth chapters on five continents, and multiple groups in the United States with thousands of members working together to protect the Earth, the water, the air, and the atmosphere, creating healthy sustainable communities globally. We inspire and empower young leaders, families, schools, organizations, cities, and government officials to make positive change locally, nationally, and globally to address the critical state of the Earth. www.earthguardians.org

Our Children’s Trust is a nonprofit organization, elevating the voice of youth, those with most to lose, to secure the legal right to a healthy atmosphere and stable climate on behalf of present and future generations. We lead a global human rights and environmental justice campaign to implement enforceable science-based Climate Recovery Plans that will return atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration to levels below 350 ppm. www.ourchildrenstrust.org/

News updates: http://ourchildrenstrust.org/news

Related Girl Power Academy Post with Mary Christina Wood  interviewed by Bill Moyers:

https://girlpoweracademy.wordpress.com/2016/01/06/mary-christina-wood-natures-trust-a-new-approach-to-environmental-law/

The Peaceful Burns Paiute Tribe Protests the Militant Mormons Taking Over Their Lands

Burns Paiute Tribe: Militants need to get off ‘our land’

by Ian K. Kullgren

http://www.oregonlive.com/pacific-northwest-news/index.ssf/2016/01/burns_piaute_tribe_militants_s.html

“They just need to get the hell out of here,” said Jarvis Kennedy, a member of the tribal council. “They didn’t ask anybody, we don’t want them here…our little kids are sitting at home when they should be in school.”

The group of 20 or so militants, led by right-wing activists Ammon Bundy and his two brothers, seized the refuge headquarters on Saturday.

The Paiute Tribe once occupied a large swath of land that includes the Malheur National Wildlife refuge — archaeological evidence dates back 6,000 years — but they were forced out in the late 1870s. Before settlers arrived, the tribe used it as a wintering ground, said Charlotte Rodrique, the tribal chair.

“We as a tribe view that this is still our land no matter who’s living on it,” Rodrique said.

In 1868, the tribe signed a treaty with the federal government that requires the government to protect natives’ safety. According to the tribe, the federal government promised to prosecute “any crime or injury perpetrated by any white man upon the Indians.”

Rodrique said the tribe never ceded its rights to the land. It works with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to preserve archaeological sites.

“We feel strongly because we have had a good working relationship with the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge,” she said. “We view them as a protector of our cultural rights in that area.”

About 200 people live in the Burns Paiute Reservation, located 30 miles from the refuge headquarters. The tribe owns 11,000 acres of land nationwide, Rodrique said.

The tribal council met with archaeologists at the refuge Tuesday. Tribal leaders said they’re worried the militants could damage archaeological sites.

Although the tribe says it’s pleased with the federal government’s response so far, some wondered aloud whether nonwhite militants would be given such passive treatment.

“I wonder if it was bunch of natives that went out there and overtook that, or any federal land,” Kennedy said. “Would they let us come into town and get supplies and re-up?”

— Ian K. Kullgren (ikullgren@oregonian.com)

US | Wed Jan 6, 2016 3:21pm ESTRelated: U.S.

Oregon native tribe uneasy with armed standoff over land rights

BURNS, ORE. | BY JONATHAN ALLEN

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-oregon-militia-tribe-idUSKBN0UK1FS20160106
The reservation is not far from the wildlife refuge, and the tribe has been living in the arid western Oregon mountains since long before Europeans arrived in North America.

“There was never an agreement that we were giving up this land,” Rodrique said. “We were dragged out of here.”

The tribe’s approach has typically been less provocative than the protesters who brought guns to further their anti-government cause.

“I’m, like, hold on a minute, if you want to get technical about it … the land belongs to the Paiute here,” said Selena Sam, a member of the tribe’s council who works as a waitress at a local diner.

At an emotional news conference in Burns on Wednesday, tribal leaders denounced the occupiers’ claims of wanting to help local residents, and said the protesters’ ignorance of the region’s real history was offensive.

Native Americans React To Oregon Armed Occupation: Burns Paiute Tribe Says,

‘We Were Here First’

BY MORGAN WINSOR

http://www.ibtimes.com/native-americans-react-oregon-armed-occupation-burns-paiute-tribe-says-we-were-here-2252872

 

As armed ranchers continued to occupy federal land in eastern Oregon for a fifth consecutive day, the leader of the area’s Native American tribal council spoke out in anger and frustration. “We were here first,” Charlotte Rodrique, chairwoman of the federal recognized Burns Paiute Tribe, said at a press conference Wednesday.

The protesters want the government to relinquish the federal land to local ranchers, loggers and miners. But the area in question, the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, is actually native Paiute land that was ceded to white settlers over a hundred years ago. And while the native people can relate to the protesters’ dispute, they don’t appreciate their guns and they want to make clear whose land it really is.
“Armed protesters don’t belong here,” Rodrique said at the press conference in the sleepy town of Burns, saying they were “desecrating one of our sacred sites.”

Armed anti-government protesters took over the headquarters building at the federal wildlife preserve Saturday, accusing federal officials of unfairly punishing ranchers who refused to sell their property. The gun-toting protesters, led by Ammon Bundy, are also demonstrating in support of two local ranchers who were charged with arson after starting a prescribed fire on their private property that spread onto public land. The group said they have no intentions of vacating the premises, despite requests from the Burns Paiute Tribe leaders.

Mary Christina Wood: Nature’s Trust a New Approach to Environmental Law

For Full Transcript please go directly to:

http://billmoyers.com/episode/full-show-climate-crusade/

Selected Transcript Excerpts:

MARY CHRISTINA WOOD: Every suit and every administrative petition filed in every state in the country and against the federal government asks for the same relief. And that is for the government, whether it’s the state of Tennessee or the state of Oregon or the federal government to bring down carbon emissions in compliance with what scientists say is necessary to avert catastrophic climate change.

And so the remedy in the suits pending is for the courts to order a plan, simply order the legislatures and the agencies to do their job in figuring out how to lower carbon emissions. So the courts would not actually figure out how to do that. That’s the other branch’s job. It’s just that they’re not doing it. And they probably won’t without pressure before we pass crucial tipping points.

BILL MOYERS: A plaintiff in one of the early suits, 16 years old at the time, sued the federal government, quote, “…for making decisions that threaten our right to a safe and healthy planet.” Now, where does it say anywhere in law that the government serves as the trustee of the atmosphere and that it’s violating its most compelling duties by failing, in the words of this young man, to protect the atmosphere from climate change? Where do you find that?

MARY CHRISTINA WOOD: You find that in case law, going back to the beginning years of this country. The Supreme Court, the US Supreme Court, has announced the public trust doctrine in multiple cases over the years. And again, it’s in every state jurisprudence as well. And so this is not statutory law.

I think people are so accustomed to our statutory system, they always say, as you just did, where can we find it written down in a statute? Well, this is actually the foundation of all laws. Professor Gerald Torres has a wonderful quote in his writings, saying this is the slate upon which all constitutions and laws are written. And that is the approach most courts (in this country and other countries) take in describing the public trust.

BILL MOYERS: It’s clear that you consider the courts the alternative to the streets. That this is the way people, including your 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds who are filing these suits, can seek to redress their concerns about the climate and survival through the democratic process as opposed to taking to the streets.

MARY CHRISTINA WOOD: No. I would never say the two are mutually exclusive. The court is just one– it’s an important branch of government; it’s the third branch of government. It’s crucial to our checks and balances. And so of course you would think that the courts have a role to play.

But street democracy is so powerful. I don’t know of any major movement that has succeeded without street democracy. When hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets, as they did in New York City, exercise their constitutional rights of free assembly; and then when you see, also, almost 100,000 people signing up and pledging to risk arrest if Keystone, the Keystone Pipeline, that would transport tar sands from Canada, those people are pledging to risk arrest if Obama or Congress approves the Keystone Pipeline.

When you see this kind of uprising, that only reinforces the more formal legal approaches that are put forth in the atmospheric trust litigation. The two go very much hand in hand because what is very important for judges is to sense the moral authority of the people. Judges have a finger on the pulse of the American people in a way that I think we don’t really understand that well. Judges can, if they sense the need, move very rapidly and order swift injunctions to force the legislatures or agencies, or both, to create a carbon reduction plan. And as that awareness becomes more acute, as demonstrated in the streets, courts, I believe, will become more receptive to coming in and ordering the legislatures to do their job.

BILL MOYERS: What’s the one thing you want the reader to take away from “Nature’s Trust”?

MARY CHRISTINA WOOD: Most important thing is for citizens to understand that they are needed to promote environmental democracy at this crucial moment in time, that environmental law held a lot of promise but that it’s not working, and that agencies have basically used it to allow almost unfettered destruction of our natural resources.

BILL MOYERS: What agencies are you talking about?

MARY CHRISTINA WOOD: Agencies that span the full realm of natural resources. So the US EPA, the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Corps of Engineers, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service; you name it. There are dozens of agencies at the federal and state levels that control environmental resources. And they are supposed to represent the public interest and not corporations or moneyed interests in making those decisions. And we the public assume that the agencies are doing the right thing when they’re implementing environmental laws. Whereas in fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Agencies have become politicized creatures that largely serve industry.

BILL MOYERS: You’re talking about agencies at the federal government, but also at the state level.

MARY CHRISTINA WOOD: And the local level. Local, state, and federal level, across all natural resource regulatory areas. And I would never say that environmental law has done nothing. It has stopped a few things. Lead was taken out of gasoline, PCBs were banned, those things. But industry would like no regulation at all. It would like a free-for-all across all resource systems. So we are at a very dangerous situation in this country where the very life systems that support us are now imperiled and in jeopardy.

BILL MOYERS: What has happened to all those great laws passed in the 1970s? I mean, I was around for the first Earth Day in 1970. And then there came all of those promising laws out of Congress, which even President Nixon supported. There was so much optimism, so much promise.

video link above: Blue Herons Song by Mighty Xee on vocals/piano &TG Vanini on Violin & Tommy Hollister doing harmonies at the 2009 Woodstock Walk for Peace, is being posted here for NO COMMERCIAL PURPOSES

MARY CHRISTINA WOOD: It’s a huge disappointment. There was a lot of promise. The Americans thought they had solved the problem by getting these laws passed. What they didn’t realize was that industries got inside the agencies through various means, through campaign contributions, through pressure on the system over and over again. And so one thing we have to keep in mind is we’re nearing the end of our resources. And there are laws of nature that we have to comply with.

And those laws are supreme. And they determine whether we will survive on this planet. And they will determine the future conditions for our children. And so right now, our environmental laws are out of whack with the laws of nature. They are allowing destruction, whereas they should be structuring society to create a balance with the natural systems that support our lives.

BILL MOYERS: This paragraph leaped out at me, I’m quoting directly: “…it matters little what new laws emerge, for they will develop the same bureaucratic sinkholes that consumed the 1970s laws. Only a transformative approach can address sources of legal decay.” What’s the heart of this transformational approach?

MARY CHRISTINA WOOD: Well, the heart of the approach is the public trust doctrine. And it says that government is a trustee of the resources that support our public welfare and survival. And so a trust means that one entity or person manages a certain wealth, an endowment, so to speak, for the benefit of others. And in the case of the public trust, the beneficiaries are the present and future generations of citizens. So it is a statement of, in essence, public property rights that have been known since Roman times.

In fact, this was articulated by the Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in a landmark public trust decision last year. And the decision basically overturned a statute that the Pennsylvania Legislature had passed to promote fracking. And the Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Chief Justice Castille, said this violates the public trust. And he began his opinion by saying that citizens hold inalienable environmental rights to assure the habitability of their communities.

And that these are ensconced in the social contract that citizens make with government. They cannot be alienated. They are inherent and reserved. So they are of a constitutional nature. And the point of the public trust is that the citizens hold these constitutional rights in an enduring natural endowment that is supposed to support all future generations of citizens in this country. It is so basic to democracy; in fact, the late Joseph Sax said the trust distinguishes a society of citizens from serfs.

BILL MOYERS: Well, that will strike some people as socialist.

MARY CHRISTINA WOOD: It inures in democracy. Now, if they believe that is socialism, then we have quite a conversation ahead, because this has been a part of our legal system since the very earliest years of our country. The Supreme Court of the United States in a landmark case called Illinois Central Railroad in 1892 said that the Illinois Legislature couldn’t just give away the shoreline of Chicago, the shoreline along Lake Michigan, to a private railroad company, because the citizens needed that shoreline for fishing and navigation and commerce. This is really nothing new. It’s certainly not socialism. It is the heart of popular sovereignty to expect that the citizens have enduring rights to the resources that support their very survival.

"penguin and ice cube" photo by K. J. Legry
“penguin and ice cube” photo by K. J. Legry

MARY CHRISTINA WOOD: Climate is not just an environmental issue. This is a civilizational issue. This is the biggest case that courts will get in terms of the potential harm in front of them, the population affected by that harm, and in terms of the urgency. Climate is mind-blowing. It can’t be categorized any longer as an environmental issue.

Legislators are trustees with constitutional obligations to the citizens. So just to put it out there, the public trust is designed for precisely the situation we have today. Now, whether or not I expect political reinforcement, I would say absolutely at the local level. These cases are finding reinforcement at the local level. In fact, in Eugene, Oregon, Our Children’s Trust organized a group of youth and they went before city council, month after month after month, and testified, asking the city council to really take action on climate and to make Eugene, Oregon a carbon-neutral place.

And after month after month after month, when the city councilors looked those children in the eyes and saw what I describe as just the moral authority of these youth, they passed the most aggressive climate ordinance in the country. And I think that is the power of the youth. The youth have to now step up, come before their legislators, pack the courtrooms in these atmospheric trust cases, meet with the agency people.

The youth have to come forward because they have no money. They have no voting rights. But they have got something that no one else has, and that is the moral authority. That is the future. And the obligations we naturally feel towards our own children, towards children we love, they all come to the surface when we can– when we actually speak to youth about the future they face.

"penguin and no ice cube" photo by K. J. Legry
“penguin and no ice cube” photo by K. J. Legry

MARY CHRISTINA WOOD: If we love our children and nieces and nephews and grandchildren, we cannot be pessimistic. We have to do everything possible at this moment in time. And we have to forge ahead with courage and optimism. And ultimately, we have to be guided by the moral principles that were responsible for the founding of this nation. So no, I’m not a pessimist.

BILL MOYERS: The book is “Nature’s Trust: Environmental Law for a New Ecological Age”.

natures-trust-book-cover-201x300Mary Christina Wood is the Philip H. Knight Professor of Law and Faculty Director of the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Center at the University of Oregon School of Law. She has taught law for more than twenty years, specializing in property law, environmental law and federal Indian law. She founded the school’s top-ranked Environmental and Natural Resources Law Program. Wood is the co-author of a textbook on natural resources law and another on public trust law.
The following is an an excerpt from Mary Christina Wood’s book Nature’s Trust: Environmental Law For a New Ecological Age.

Arising primarily from statutes passed in the 1970s, the field of environmental law stands as a failed legal experiment. The administrative state vests agencies with breathtaking power that came justified by one simple assumption: officials will deploy public resources and invoke their technical expertise on behalf of the public interest. Instead, too many environmental agencies today use their power to carry out profit agendas set by corporations and singular interests. As Part I of this book explained, environmental agencies have fallen captive to the industries they regulate. Consequently, they use the laws’ permit provisions to legalize the very damage the statutes were designed to prevent. Nearly across the board, environmental statutory processes do not prohibit harm: they permit it.

The problem lies not in the statutes themselves but in the frame governing environmental law. As a political frame, it continually bends agencies into serving those parties holding the most political power, which in today’s world often means corporations rather than the general public. In many US agencies, decisions flow from what the politics will allow, not what the statutes say. High-ranking political operatives use their discretion to favor the industries they continue to serve from inside the agency. Staff scientists and permit writers operating within highly charged political cultures suffer varying degrees of pressure to fall in line with the agency’s political agenda. These pressures remain obscured from the public, taking place in procedural fortresses made nearly impenetrable by their sheer complexity.

In a three-branch system of government, courts and legislatures should provide meaningful checks and balances to rein in the executive branch and its agencies. But Congress, more susceptible to corporate influence than ever before, deadlocks over environmental policy. Its minimal involvement typically consists of appropriations riders passed to legalize industry behavior that would otherwise violate statutory mandates. Courts, while positioned to force agency compliance with statutory mandates, play a weak role because of a deference doctrine, which accords agency technical decisions a presumption of validity. Absent effective oversight by the other two branches of government, a dangerous amount of power accumulates in the executive branch, both on the federal and state levels. While legal structures vary considerably among different nations, the untrammeled power of agencies, wherever located, can create an administrative tyranny over nature and a menace to environmental democracy .

Any trust relies on strong judicial enforcement of fiduciary duties. Without a robust judiciary, there exists no trust – only tyranny. This book devoted a chapter to judicial enforcement, outlining steps that judges could take immediately, within their realm of authority and judicial tradition, to restore integrity to environmental law and enforce the property rights of citizen beneficiaries. It argued for judicial review of legislative action under fiduciary standards of loyalty to the public. It underscored the need for judicial remedies to address the institutional dysfunction of agencies in their management of resources. When faced with long-standing agency incompetence, corruption and dereliction of duty, courts prove effective only by intervening (either temporarily or for protracted periods) directly into the agency’s processes. We also detailed the elements of structural injunctions and described institutional remedies that could promote effective judicial supervision. While these types of remedies have ample precedent and remain well within the realm of equitable authority, courts have not yet used them widely in environmental law.

Link to the full: Bill Moyers book review for Mary Christina Wood: Natures Trust New Approach Environmental Law

Video: Modest Mouse “Coyotes”
Inspired by the true story of a coyote that rode Portland’s MAX light rail train in 2002. (All music and video Copyrights belong to Modest Mouse and this video is being posted for NO commercial purposes)

Robin Coste Lewis (National Book Award for Poetry Winner) “Voyage of the Sable Venus”

It’s actually the history of black female bodies in art. So, that’s part of why I did the project. It exceeds the national boundaries and even the history of America by several millennia. It goes back even to 38,000 years, into prehistoric images of black female figures.”    ~Robin Coste Lewis, National Book Award for Poetry Winner

Voyage of the Sable Venus
Etched Image discussed in the book by Robin Coste Lewis, “Voyage of the Sable Venus”

“So, it’s a redux of Botticelli’s Venus on the Half Shell, but, in this case, it’s a black woman on the clam shell. And she’s being drawn through the water by Cupid and Triton or Neptune. I’m not sure. But instead of Neptune having a trident, right, he has a flag of the Union Jack, so it turns out to be a pro-slavery image.

And it is based on a poem, also “Voyage of the Sable Venus,” titled “Voyage of the Sable Venus,” that speaks about how — it’s a pro-rape poem. It’s disgusting, how to rape a white woman or a black woman slave at night is the same, because you can’t see their bodies, 1782.

So, when I heard the title, “Voyage of the Sable Venus,” this is the whole experience of looking at that image, where you’re both completely compelled — it’s a gorgeous image — until you realize that it’s pro-slavery.

And then the title itself was so gorgeous to me, “Voyage of the Sable Venus.” Right? So, the complete contradiction of what the image performed and what the title said seemed to me to be a cue to look further. And so the more I looked and the more titles I found, the weirder it got and the more interesting it got.”

~ROBIN COSTE LEWIS (Quote about the “Voyage of the Sable Venus,” the first collection from Robin Coste Lewis, winner of this year’s National Book Award for poetry. Lewis discussed her debut, her readers and her influences with Jeffrey Brown (PBS News Hour) at the Miami Book Festival.

Link To View:   Robin Coste Lewis’s “Voyage of the Sable Venus” (Lit Hub)

Link to Poetry Foundation Bio for Robin Coste Lewis

Voyage of the Sable Venus and other poems (by Robin Coste Lewis) book cover
Voyage of the Sable Venus and other poems (by Robin Coste Lewis) book cover

In her Prologue, Robin Coste Lewis Writes:

What follows is a narrative poem comprised solely and entirely of the titles, catalogue entries, or exhibit descriptions of Western art objects in which a black female figure is present, dating from 38,000 BCE to the present.

The formal rules I set for myself were simple:

1) No title could be broken or changed in any way. While the grammar is completely modified–I erased all periods, commas, semi-colons–each title was left as published, and was not syntactically annotated, edited, or fragmented.

2) “Art” included paintings, sculpture, installations, photography, lithographs, engraving, any work on paper, etc–all those traditional mediums now recognized by the Western art-historical project. However, because black female figures were also used in ways I could never have anticipated, I was forced to expand that definition to include other material and visual objects, such as combs, spoons, buckles, pans, knives, table legs.

3) At some point, I realized that museums and libraries (in what I imagine must have been a hard-won gesture of goodwill, or in order not to appear irrelevant) had removed many 19thcentury historically-specific markers, such as slave, colored, or Negro from their titles or archives, and replaced these words instead with the sanitized, but perhaps equally vapid African-American. In order to replace this historical erasure of slavery (however well-intended), I re-erased the post-modern “African-American” and changed all those titles back. That is, I re-corrected the corrected horror to allow that original horror to stand. My intent was to explore and record not only the history of human thought, but also how normative and complicit artists, art institutions and art historians have all been in participating in–if not creating–this history.

4) As an homage, I decided to include titles of art by black women artists and curators, whether the art included a black female figure or not. Most of this work was created over the last century, with its deepest saturation occurring since the Cold War. I also included work by black queer artists, regardless of gender, because this body of work has made consistently some of the richest, most elegant, least pretentious contributions to Western art interrogations of gender and race.

5) In a few instances, it was more fruitful to include a museum’s description of the art, rather than the title itself. This was especially true for colonial period.

6) Sometimes I chose to include female figures I believed the Western art world simply had not realized was a black woman passing for white.

7) Finally, no title was repeated.

All is suffering is a bad modernist translation,” Robin Coste Lewis explains. “What the Buddha really said is: It’s all a mixed bag. Shit is complicated. Everything’s fucked up. Everything’s gorgeous.”