TALLAHASSEE – Eight Florida youths backed by an environmental organization sued state leaders Monday, accusing them of failing to address climate change and refusing to blunt the use of polluting fossil fuels.
The lawsuit by Our Children’s Trust claims the eight young plaintiffs face current health hazards and a future where life in Florida will be sharply changed by the effect of sea-level rise and a loss of natural resources.
“These actions by our government leaders are destroying our basic rights,” said Oscar Psychas, 20, of Gainesville, a freshman at Vermont’s Middlebury College and one of those filing the suit in Leon County Circuit Court.
Gov. Rick Scott, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and other state leaders are named as defendants. A spokesman for Scott dismissed the lawsuit as “political theater.”
“The governor signed one of the largest environmental protection budgets in Florida’s history last month – investing $4 billion into Florida’s environment,” said Scott spokesman McKinley Lewis. “The governor is focused on real solutions to protect our environment – not political theater or a lawsuit orchestrated by a group based in Eugene, Oregon.”
Our Children’s Trust is based in Oregon and filed a federal lawsuit there in 2015 against U.S. government policies it claims violate the younger generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty and property, while failing to protect natural resources.
The lawsuit is scheduled for trial in October. State lawsuits such as the one filed Monday in Tallahassee are expected to multiply, advocates say.
“Our greenhouse gas emissions are enormous,” said Guy Burns, a Tampa securities lawyer representing the eight youth suing the state. “The governor and Adam Putnam have neglected their obligation to pass programs that will stem these emissions.”
Scott last week announced he is running against Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, and Putnam is a leading Republican candidate for governor.
Burns said that politics was not driving the lawsuit, but raising questions about the two Republicans’ environmental record “may be one of the unintended consequences.”
Burns defended citing Scott and Putnam, saying that among state leaders, the pair have unique authority over environmental policy and regulations. Among others named are the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein and the state’s Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities.
Florida’s energy policies have led it to become one of the world’s largest producers of greenhouse gas, outstripping that of many countries, Burns said.
While the state under Scott’s predecessor, former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, pushed a plan to encourage the reduction of greenhouse gas, those efforts failed in the state Legislature. Scott has not revisited the issue and also has refused to acknowledge climate change, saying, “I’m not a scientist.”
The lawsuit also argues that climate change will have a profound effect on Florida’s economy.
Governments in the Miami-area expect to spend $1 billion in coming years to slow seawater intrusion and flooding in many coastal areas. Property values across Florida could also decline by $15 billion by 2030, studies show.
The state’s tourist industry will be affected by the loss of many beaches and coastal destinations, the suit claims.
Psychas, the Gainesville college student, said that especially for his generation, climate change is alarming.
“Without a stable climate system, everything is at risk,” he said.