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Utah Supreme Court agrees to hear teens' climate change lawsuit

Posted at 2:17 PM, Jun 17, 2024

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Supreme Court will hear a lawsuit brought by a group of teens challenging the state's fossil fuel policies that they say harm their health and exacerbate climate change.

The state's top court could revive a legal challenge that was dismissed in 2022 by a lower court judge. While he declared the teens "have a valid concern" about climate change and the impacts of the state's fossil fuel policies, the judge dismissed their lawsuit, declaring that the issues fell within the realm of the legislative branch of government.

The teens appealed and the Court agreed to take up the case, setting arguments for Sept. 4. A notation in the docket indicates Associate Chief Justice John Pearce has recused himself from hearing the case. Prior to joining the Court, he was legal counsel for then-Governor Gary Herbert.

"We are hopeful that the Court will set this case back on the path towards trial, where it belongs. With each passing day that Utah’s statutory policy to maximize fossil fuel development remains in place, Utah’s government continues to increase the state’s dangerous air pollution and worsen the climate crisis, directly harming the health and safety of these brave young plaintiffs," the teens' attorney, Andrew Welle, said.

This year, the Utah State Legislature rewrote the state's energy policies with some bills designed to prop up Utah's declining coal industry. FOX 13 News first reported last year that Carbon County mined its last coal mine. On Wednesday, the legislature will meet in special session to consider a renegotiated bill that originally cleared the way for a state takeover of the massive Intermountain Power Project in central Utah. IPP has been moving away from fossil fuels.

"One thing that the state has argued is that these recent changes to Utah’s energy policy and in particular, one of the statutes that we’re challenging makes it inappropriate to hear this case. That’s incorrect," Andrew Welle, an attorney with Our Children's Trust who is representing the children, told FOX 13 News. "Because what the legislature has done is double-down on their commitment to maximizing fossil fuels and changing these policies. Recently, they’ve said let’s continue business as usual let’s make sure we’re getting as many and as much fossil fuels out of the ground as possible. What we’re asking the Court to do is decide whether those policies are unconstitutional and causing continuing harm to these young people."