The Oregon Supreme Court hears arguments Wednesday in a case brought by two young Oregonians who want the state to protect its natural resources from harm caused by climate change.
Chernaik v Kate Brown was heard in front of 320 students at East Portland's David Douglas High School, where each side had 30 minutes for oral arguments for their case.
The lawsuit argues that the government has an obligation to protect the atmosphere and the natural environments from climate change because they are public trust resources.
“The main argument is that the public trust doctrine requires the state to protect and preserve shared natural resources for all Oregonians,” said Courtney Johnson, the plaintiff's attorney. “So, when climate change is this huge threat to all of our shared natural resources the argument is that the state has a duty to protect our shared natural resources from climate change.”
Meanwhile, Carson L. Whitehead, the attorney for Gov. Brown and the state, argued the public trust does not require them to protect those resources from climate change.
After the case was argued, Johnson said she thought things went well for her clients.
“There was a high-level of engagement with the justices,” Johnson said. “They seemed very engaged and interested, asked me challenging questions but it felt like we had a really good conversations about the issues.”
The case's two lead plaintiffs are Olivia Chernaik, 19, and Kelsey Juliana, 23. Juliana, who has been spearheading the case, was a freshman in high school when the lawsuit was first filed. Juliana also has been a part of many environmental activism groups working to bring attention to the climate crisis.
Juliana said elected leaders need to stop debating this in court and act on the climate crisis now.
“There needs to be other options, besides just, ‘Well, we’re doing something on our timeline,’ and ‘Are you sure it’s really that bad?’ It’s time that everyone, this state, the federal government and all states, because this case is just one of a handful of cases where young people are holding their state government accountable,” she said.
There is no time frame for when the Oregon Supreme Court will issue a decision.
Wednesday's hearing was the latest step in multiple legal challenges brought by students over climate change. Another case, brought by Juliana and 20 other plaintiffs in 2015, sued the federal government over its climate change policies. Their case was filed in U.S. District Court in Eugene.
The federal government has repeatedly filed motions to dismiss and delay action on the case which had slowly made its ways to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.