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Kids Suing the Government for Failing to Protect the Environment for Future Generations

12:30 PM, May 5, 2011 • By MARK HEMINGWAY
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You see what happens when you bring rapacious lawyers and San Francisco politics together?:

SAN FRANCISCO — Advocates of stringent curbs on greenhouse gas emissions sued the federal government on Wednesday, arguing that key agencies had failed in their duty to protect the earth’s atmosphere as a public trust to be guarded for future generations.

Similar lawsuits are to be filed against states around the country, according to the plaintiffs, a coalition of groups concerned about climate change called Our Children’s Trust.

Most of the individual plaintiffs in the suit, filed in United States District Court in San Francisco, are teenagers, a decision apparently made to underscore the intergenerational nature of the public trust that the earth’s atmosphere represents. More novel, however, is the suit’s reliance on the public trust doctrine, which dates to Roman times.

That doctrine has been invoked in cases involving the protection of Chicago’s lakefront and of Mono Lake in the Sierra Nevada.

While I think that this line of argumentation is dubious at best, does this apply to other areas of the government too? Because if preserving the "public trust" for future generations is a legitimate legal argument, I'm going to file a suit on behalf of my kids demanding a balanced budget and the means-testing of Medicare and Social Security post-haste.

UPDATE -- Over at (where else?) Huffington Post, the Executive Director of the National Association of Environmental Law Societies makes my argument for me in a hilariously oblivious fashion:

Imagine you wake up this morning to find out that a distant relative has died leaving you a trust fund of $1,000,000.

Sad news. But, to be honest, you never liked them much -- so very exciting stuff!

If it were me, I might jump online and take a more serious look at the new $100,000 Tesla Roadster that goes 0-60 in 3.7 seconds, not to mention 245 miles on a single charge. Or maybe sign my wife and myself up for a $400,000 get away into space aboard one of the newest Branson clean-tech ventures at Virgin Galactic. How about you?

But, wait! Before you start spending that money -- some bad news. After a closer examination, the terms of the trust state that you will never receive the principal -- just the services your $1,000,000 provides. Damn it.

The upside? That $1,000,000 will work for you and your children every year for eternity. At a reasonable rate of 5% or so, that's $50,000 a year. Sounds fair.

Now imagine that you get word that the trustees who oversee this arrangement are dipping into the principal of the trust. Even worse, you uncover their plans to spend every last penny over the course of the next 25 years -- maybe much sooner.

You'd be mad, right? You'd ask them to stop. Then ask again. If they didn't, you might even sue them for violating their duties as trustees?

Yesterday, in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington and in a federal court in California, that is exactly what a group of teenagers did.

But instead of financial trustees and a $1,000,000 trust fund, they are suing their state and federal governments in an attempt to protect what they see as their common trust -- the earth's atmosphere -- and its capacity to support life as we know it.

Something tells me if you presented this legal argument except made it about the actual money in the public trust using it as an inapt environmental metaphor, green activists would be appalled that you're trying shrink the government.

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