Gov. Josh Green Calls for Additional Funds to Fight Climate Lawsuit: Hawaii Youths Accuse State Department of Violating Constitutional Rights

Honolulu, Hawaii – The administration of Gov. Josh Green is seeking an additional $2.25 million to combat a climate lawsuit filed by 14 young individuals in Hawaii. The lawsuit accuses the state Department of Transportation of violating their constitutional rights by endangering their present and future well-being. The funds are intended to cover the costs of an external law firm that is already collaborating with the state Attorney General’s Office to represent the department. The case is scheduled to be heard in the 1st Circuit’s Environmental Court in Honolulu from June 24 through July 12.

The attorneys representing the young plaintiffs claim that their counterparts from the law firm of Morgan Lewis &Bockius have resorted to aggressive tactics during ongoing individual depositions. Kylie Wager-Cruz, an attorney with Earthjustice, expressed her dismay at the way the plaintiffs have been treated, remarking that local attorneys would not treat their own children in such a manner.

The case, Navahine F. v. Hawaii Department of Transportation, will mark the second constitutional climate case to proceed to trial in the United States. The first case, which took place in Montana, concluded in a ruling in favor of 16 youth plaintiffs who argued that the state prioritized fossil fuel development over the welfare of its residents and natural resources.

This groundbreaking ruling could have implications for Hawaii, where the lawsuit alleges that the Department of Transportation is responsible for emitting high levels of greenhouse gases, thereby violating the constitutional rights of the young plaintiffs and causing them significant harm. Despite Hawaii’s efforts to be at the forefront of climate action, emissions from the transportation sector continue to rise, with the DOT failing to meet interim targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions since 2008.

The lawsuit, filed by plaintiffs aged 10 to 20, seeks to hold the department accountable for meeting the state’s goal of decarbonizing the transportation sector and achieving a zero-emissions economy by 2045. In order to defend against the case, the Green administration is requesting an additional $2.25 million, in addition to the $1 million already secured to fund the external law firm.

The law firm of Morgan Lewis, whose lawyers are charging between $600 and $1,200 an hour, has a global presence and represents a range of clients, including former President Donald Trump and Amazon. The state Department of Attorney General clarified that the decision to hire outside counsel was made by the previous administration due to the lawsuit’s importance and the number of vacancies in the department at the time.

The department disputes any negative characterization of the depositions, asserting that they are being conducted in an appropriate and respectful manner. However, plaintiffs and their attorneys argue that the questions have been focused on scientific and legal aspects rather than the personal stories of how climate change has affected them. They allege that the depositions have been designed to intimidate and unsettle the young plaintiffs.

To date, two plaintiffs have been deposed, with Earthjustice attorney Kylie Wager-Cruz describing the line of questioning as excessive and beyond the scope of the case. It remains to be seen whether Governor Green is aware of these developments and if he approves of the aggressive tactics employed during the depositions.

The climate lawsuit brought by 14 Hawaii youths against the state Department of Transportation highlights the issue of rising greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector. These emissions are said to be in violation of the constitutional rights of the young plaintiffs, who are seeking redress and accountability. The case is set to be a significant moment in Hawaii’s fight against climate change, as it aims to decarbonize the transportation sector and achieve a zero-emissions economy by 2045.