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Youth Activists Demand Tougher Limits On Climate Pollution

16-year-old Aji Piper and 14-year-old Gabe Mandell are among the plaintiffs who sued the state Department of Ecology over children’s rights to clean air. The two are now leading a letter-writing effort to heads of Washington's top carbon emitters. ";

The Washington kids who filed suit against the state Department of Ecology to get tougher limits on carbon pollution say current policies don’t go far enough. Together with their backers, they’ve unveiled more aggressive legislation they say would protect their constitutional right to clean air.  

In April, a King County Superior Court judge ordered the state Department of Ecology to issue an emissions reduction rule by the end of the year and to consult with the young plaintiffs about the latest science before making recommendations to the legislature in 2017.  This was after eight youngsters filed suit in cooperation with the national group, Our Children’s Trust, which has brought similar cases across the country.

The group heralded the ruling as an unprecedented victory, but subsequent action has not yet met their expectations.

Fourteen-year-old plaintiff Gabe Mandell says they did meet with Ecology officials, but the legislation now on the table won’t even satisfy targets set in 2008. He spoke at a press conference unveiling alternative legislation.

“Sadly, people in government who are supposed to be protecting us still aren’t doing their job. I believe you heard about the Department of Ecology a little bit. And once again, we children must take the lead,” Mandell said.

Their policy would immediately reduce carbon pollution by about 8 percent per year. That’s more than four times the amount written into the current policy. It also includes mandatory annual reporting on progress made.

“We know that if we don’t reduce CO2 emissions drastically, today’s children will face an unlivable world,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Governor Inslee’s office said via email that the governor applauds their passion and agrees more needs to be done. But he says it must be balanced with the need for economic growth and that the latest rule “will produce meaningful reductions at a rate similar to the most effective carbon pollution programs currently in place globally.”

At the same time, the climate kids announced a new effort. 16-year-old Aji Piper says they’re writing letters asking for meetings with the leaders of the state’s largest polluters.

“We’re not going to sit around and twiddle our thumbs while we wait for a law to take more years off the clock,” Piper said.

He says they want to help them draft plans to reduce their carbon emissions, in line with current science. That science comes from a team led by acclaimed NASA climatologist James Hansen.

“So we’re just asking them, instead of having the government regulate you, how about you regulate yourself – and protect the children,” said Piper.  

A letter he wrote to Weyerhaeuser, for example, asks them to stop clear-cutting so more of the timber giant’s trees would absorb carbon pollution. But he says he’s not holding his breath.

‘Most likely, with what we’re asking for, they’re not going to like it at all, they’re not going to want to comply,” Piper said.

He says they can always go back to court, based on the recent ruling, which affirmed children’s rights to clean air.  

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to