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Youth file lawsuit against state of Utah for failing to address the climate crisis

A group of youth filed a lawsuit against the state of Utah on March 15 for failing to address climate change

The lawsuit, Natalie R. versus The State of Utah, was filed by a group of Utah kids ranging in age from 9-18 years old represented by lawyers from “Our Children’s Trust,” an Oregon-based nonprofit public interest law firm. Although kids suing the government may sound like an anomaly, Andrew Welle, one of the lawyers on the case, explained that litigation like this is becoming more common.

“Our Children's Trust also has brought and supports litigation in multiple other states and youth bringing similar legal actions all across the world, holding government accountable for policies that worsen climate change and violate fundamental human rights”

Welle believes that Utah’s government promotes fossil fuel extraction, despite knowing the detrimental effects of these policies.

:The state of Utah has long known of the dangers of fossil fuels in causing these problems. And instead of addressing the problem, the state has really doubled down. And they've passed laws that make it explicit that the state's policy is to promote and maximize and systematically authorize the development of fossil fuels from Utah's lands”

Dallin Rima is one of the plaintiffs, and a high school student from Riverton, Utah, one of many cities along the Wasatch Front plagued with high levels of air pollution. Rima was frustrated by the government’s apparent disregard for his health, and sought out legislative action to have his voice heard.

“These fossil fuel friendly policies have contributed to our horrible, dangerous air quality, which is literally taking years off of our lives. You know, think about that. That's a little crazy. You can't just go to the store and buy more years of your life, right? They're siphoning time from our lives. And if that isn't a blatant constitutional violation, and I don't know what it is”

Welle and Rima believe this case has the potential to create policy-level changes

“The state is not going to reverse course, and stop promoting fossil fuel development in Utah, unless it's determined that that is unconstitutional”

“I want to force their hands, I want to make them recognize my rights, and I want to make them protect those rights.”

The case was filed in Salt Lake City’s Third District Court and the plaintiffs are currently waiting on a response to their complaint from the state. Welle hopes to see the case go to trial so Rima and his fellow plaintiffs have a chance to take the stand and express their concerns.

Ellis Juhlin is a science reporter here at Utah Public Radio and a Master's Student at Utah State. She studies Ferruginous Hawk nestlings and the factors that influence their health. She loves our natural world and being part of wildlife research. Now, getting to communicate that kind of research to the UPR listeners through this position makes her love what she does even more. In her free time, you can find her outside on a trail with her partner Matt and her goofy pups Dodger and Finley. They love living in a place where there are year-round adventures to be had!