Environment

Kids sue state of Florida for action on climate change. DeSantis wants suit dismissed

Young Floridians sue their Governor

Eight young Floridians gathered at the steps of the Miami-Dade County Courthouse to discuss a complaint filed the previous day against the State of Florida for actively promoting, permitting and licensing activities that cause climate change.
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Eight young Floridians gathered at the steps of the Miami-Dade County Courthouse to discuss a complaint filed the previous day against the State of Florida for actively promoting, permitting and licensing activities that cause climate change.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ relatively green platform and his promises to prioritize the environment have received bipartisan applause since he was sworn in.

In a state where former Gov. Rick Scott banned regulators from using the phrase “climate change,” DeSantis has gotten credit for making resiliency a priority and even hiring someone to oversee efforts in the state.

But the words “climate change” appear nowhere in his executive order on the environment. And while he nods to rising seas and increased flooding, he never references humans’ role in the changing landscape.

Last week, DeSantis and several state agencies filed a motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought by eight young Floridians in an effort to force the state to start work on a court-ordered “Climate Recovery Plan.”

The suit names the governor, the state of Florida and the agencies responsible for implementing the state’s energy policy and plan, including the Department of Environmental Protection, the Public Service Commission and the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

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The plaintiffs, ranging from 10 to 20 years old, are represented by an Oregon-based group called Our Children’s Trust that sponsors similar suits from young people around the country. This group filed its suit last April, and substituted DeSantis and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried for their predecessors after they were sworn in in January.

One of the youths — a 10-year-old boy from Brevard County — lives in a home where the front yard was flooded with 18 inches of water during Hurricane Irma, according to court documents. A 12-year-old boy from Miami who signed on said his apartment floods during king tides and hurricanes, causing his family to evacuate.

The youths are accusing the administration of ignoring the threat of rising sea level and failing to take any action to cut back on carbon emissions. They’ve turned to the court because the executive branch of government is not protecting their constitutional rights, their attorney said.

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Andrea Rodgers, the attorney who represents the young plaintiffs, said she “struggles to understand how a government is trying to get rid of a case that children filed instead of coming up with solutions.” They say the state is not pushing enough programs or projects to address climate change.

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“Young people don’t vote, so they can’t express themselves in the political process,” Rodgers said. “It’s imperative that the court plays a role in the process because it’s the court’s job to uphold the kids’ constitutional right.”

The state’s attorneys argue that the court doesn’t have the authority to act on the youths’ claims because they raise political questions not subject to judicial review and name DeSantis, Fried and other agency heads as the enforcing authorities.

Fried’s office said while she agrees with the scientists who link human activity with climate change, she hopes to work with the youths on solutions outside the lawsuit.

The young plaintiffs “have a partner in Commissioner Fried, one that takes seriously the climate crisis facing our state’s future,” said Franco Ripple, a department spokesman. “However, given the new Cabinet and legislative leadership, the Commissioner feels a lawsuit is not the appropriate way to confront this challenge together.”

A spokeswoman for DeSantis did not respond to requests for comment.

Caroline Lewis, founder of the Miami nonprofit CLEO Institute, educates students and adults about climate change and rising sea levels. She said if she had the ear of elected officials, she would tell them that Florida is in for a “wild ride” if they don’t take climate action seriously.

“In 10 years, there will be hotter temperatures, more disease, less fresh water,” she said. “We are heading to hell on earth. For this to still be a political agenda in the state of Florida is beyond the pale and should be seen as criminal.”

Some of Lewis’ former students are involved in the suit, which she says is “as close to heartbreaking as I can handle in my life.”

“The climate science is fascinatingly depressing,” Lewis said. “It is urgent beyond our ability to comprehend. The young people just want a platform and they want us to be the wind beneath their wings. It’s their future that’s in jeopardy.”

Our Children’s Trust has until March 8 to file a response. The court will then likely hold a hearing in April or May where the parties can argue in front of the judge as to whether the court can hear the case.

Samantha J. Gross is a state government reporter for the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times bureau in Tallahassee, where she covers state government and politics. Before she moved to the Sunshine State, she covered breaking news at the Boston Globe and the Dallas Morning News.


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