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A Hypothetical Win for Juliana Plaintiffs: Ensuring Victory Is More Than Symbolic

Apr 01, 2020

Megan Raymond

Volume 46 (2019) - Issue 2

Juliana v. United States is “no ordinary lawsuit.” Twenty-one Youth Plaintiffs from the United States have alleged that the federal government has knowingly abetted the fossil fuel industry in activities that have caused significant carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution for over fifty years. The continuation of policies and practices the government knows to be harmful to the environment is, according to plaintiffs, an infringement on their “constitutional rights to life liberty, and property.” The plaintiffs seek remedies on a scale appropriate to the problem of climate change: a declaration of a constitutional right to a climate system capable of sustaining life; affirmative federal protection of the atmosphere, waters, oceans, and biosphere under an expanded public trust doctrine; and implementation of “a national remedial plan to phase out fossil fuel emissions and draw down excess atmospheric carbon dioxide so as to stabilize the climate system and protect the vital resources on which Plaintiffs now and in the future will depend.”

Given the urgency of action and extent of prayed-for relief, it is useful to begin considering how a court-ordered remedial plan would be implemented, even though the legal future of Juliana is unclear. If the court orders the government to implement a national remedial plan, it must impose requirements that strike the right balance of deadlines, scope, and accountability to ensure that a positive holding in Juliana is more than a symbolic environmental victory.