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Utahns Rally Behind Youth Climate Lawsuit Against the Federal Government

Three dozen Utahns joined activists nationwide in rallying behind a landmark climate lawsuit even though the U.S. Supreme Court has put the case on hold.

Chief Justice John Roberts took the rare move of delaying the case, Juliana v. United States, just days before it was supposed to be taken up by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The case began when 21 youth, ages 11 to 22, argued that the government is violating their civil rights by inaction on climate change. Observers worldwide now wonder what’s next after Roberts issued a stay before the federal government could begin arguing its case for overturning a lower court’s ruling to allow the case to move forward.

“Our government has taken the stand that ‘Oh, it might be happening, but there’s nothing we can do about it,” said Kathy Albury, a retired teacher who participated in the Monday rally in Salt Lake City. “That’s just not the case. There’s a lot that we can do about it, and we need to do it very quickly.”

Albury reminded the supporters assembled outside the U.S. District Courthouse that Utah students tried to make a similar case to state leaders in 2010 with the “iMatter” campaign. That effort was dismissed by state agencies and the Utah Legislature. But high school students from Logan successfully persuaded the Legislature earlier this year to begin paying attention to climate change as part of a non-binding resolution on environmental stewardship.

“Young people, they recognize the position that some parts of our government have put us all in,” said Alan Ernstsen, who held a giant poster at Monday’s rally in Salt Lake City.

The fate of the Juliana v. U.S. now rests on Roberts, who must decide whether to lift the stay or allow the case to continue.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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