Multnomah County stands with kids in climate cases

March 8, 2019

Chair Deborah Kafoury on Friday announced Multnomah County has petitioned to be a friend of the court in the Chernaik v. Brown climate case.

Also on Friday, attorneys for the Chernaik plaintiffs asked the Oregon Supreme Court to review the case. Multnomah County’s petition, if granted, would allow it to file briefs with the Supreme Court in support of the Chernaik plaintiffs.

“This case will have broad implications for current and future Oregonians and their health, prosperity, and safety,’’ said Courtney Johnson, counsel for the plaintiffs and a staff attorney at Crag Law Center in Portland.  “As we ask the Supreme Court to take review, the County’s participation helps show the Court how important this case is.”

By filing a petition, Multnomah County is putting its support behind the youth plaintiffs  who sued the State of Oregon in 2011 for failing to protect the state’s public trust resources from climate change. By seeking to file a brief in support of the youths’ case, Multnomah County is one of the first governments in the country to publicly support both Chernaik v. Brown and the federal lawsuit on climate change also brought by young Oregonians and others, Juliana v. United States.

In the Chernaik v. Brown case, plaintiffs Olivia Chernaik, Kelsey Juliana and their guardians sued to enforce the state’s obligation under the public trust doctrine to protect the atmosphere, water and wildlife in Oregon from the effects of climate change, while also protecting the economic, recreational and aesthetic benefits that flow from the health of those resources.

The Oregon Court of Appeals in January ruled that Oregon has no duty to protect its natural resources.

“This decision is simply inconsistent with longstanding legal doctrine and common law,’’ Chair Kafoury said. “Those of us at the County believe that sovereign governments do have a duty, morally and legally, to protect natural resources, particularly in light of the climate crisis.‘’

In the federal case, 21 youths assert — because of its actions that create climate change — that the federal government is depriving them of their constitutional rights to life, liberty and property and is failing to protect essential public trust resources. The case is currently before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Chair Kafoury invited plaintiffs from the Juliana case, Kelsey Juliana, Miko and Isaac Vergun, and area high school students Bella Klosterman, Jeremy and Noah Clark, and Ethan Eisner to discuss their concerns for their future.

The young people are “our best hope, because they are taking action,’’ Chair Kafoury said. “They are stepping up. They recognize the threat to their future and are pushing for real solutions. Multnomah County stands with these kids.”