The US administration is seeking a fast-track appeal against a climate change lawsuit brought by 21 young people.
Jeffrey Wood, a temporary Trump appointee at the Justice Department and recently a fossil fuel lobbyist, called on the federal court in Oregon to send the case to appeal before evidence was submitted and a ruling made in the initial trial.
A lobbyist for fossil fuel interests until January, Wood said the move would “avoid litigation that is unprecedented in its scope and in its potential to be protracted, expensive, and disruptive to the continuing operation of the United States Government”.
The youths claim that government inaction on climate change has breached their constitutional rights. They are seeking immediate steps to reduce levels of carbon dioxide in the air to 350 parts per million.
One of several documents submitted to the court by the Trump administration on Tuesday said “creative and unprecedented legal theories” formed the basis of the complaint.
The plaintiffs have asked the government to produce historical government records, including communications between the government and the fossil fuel industry. That includes documents from industry group the American Petroleum Institute, which may reveal the influence big oil companies have had on government policy.
Wood said the case and the remediation it asked for were both “staggeringly broad” and the retrieval of the information requested by the youths was too burdensome and that it could “cripple units within agencies that gather potentially relevant data or analyze climate change more broadly”.
Wood concluded that the judge should expedite the process by allowing the government to appeal an earlier motion (which was rejected) to dismiss the case, which would bypass the evidence requests.
Lawyers working on behalf of the group of youths, who range in age from 9 to 20-years-old, said the “plaintiffs maintain that their requests are limited, reasonable, and aimed at getting to trial this fall”.
As reported in The Intercept, lobbying disclosure forms show Wood was acting for fossil fuel interests before being appointed as acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department environment division. As recently as January, he worked for Southern Company – which mostly runs gas and coal power stations.
A lawyer representing the youths, Philip Gregory from the law firm Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, said science, not politics should form the basis of the court’s decision.
“We have always viewed this case as the kids versus the federal government and the fossil fuel industry. Now that the fossil fuel industry has placed its former senior officers and paid consultants in positions of political power, the interests of both the government and the fossil fuel industry are completely aligned. Their political goal is to put oil and gas profits over the future of our country’s posterity,” said Gregory.
Alex Loznak, one of the older members of the plaintiff group and a Colombia University student, said: “This request for appeal is an attempt to cover up the federal government’s long-running collusion with the fossil fuel industry. My generation cannot wait for the truth to be revealed. These documents must be uncovered with all deliberate speed, so that our trial can force federal action on climate change.”
Counsel for the group and executive director of Our Children’s Trust Julia Olson said the request was an example of “misplaced priorities”.
“The Trump Administration argues that this is a big case and so the burdens of preserving government documents warrant an expedited review. They’re right. It is a big case,” she said.
“They prefer to minimize their procedural obligations of not destroying government documents over the urgency of not destroying our climate system for our youth plaintiffs and all future generations?”
Under president Donald Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, the government had sought to have the case dismissed, but this was rejected. Judge Ann Aiken ruled that the government had a case to answer and “the right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society”.