(Reuters) - A coalition of 17 Republican attorneys general led by Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall has asked to join a pioneering lawsuit in Oregon federal court to prevent a settlement between the Biden administration and the young Americans who sued the U.S. government to challenge energy policies they say contribute to climate change.
In a motion to intervene filed on Tuesday, the attorneys general urge U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken in Eugene, Oregon to allow them to join the lawsuit with the goal of "objecting to any proposed settlement (if necessary)." The states say a potential settlement between the plaintiffs and the administration would likely threaten their economies which rely on the fossil fuel industry the plaintiffs target.
Phil Gregory, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said in a statement: "While we would normally welcome participation by states in a settlement process, it is obvious this coalition of state governments has no interest in protecting the constitutional rights of youth in this climate crisis."
U.S. Department of Justice spokesperson Danielle Nichols declined to comment.
Marshall said in a statement: "We will not allow President Biden to impose his agenda on the American people by using behind-closed-doors deals to create de-facto laws."
The motion to intervene says in a meeting with the states and both parties the federal government disagreed that the states can intervene as a matter of right.
The move comes as the 21 young plaintiffs in the high-profile case, Juliana v. United States, prepare to meet with the Biden administration on June 23 to work out a settlement to the long-running lawsuit.
The young climate activists' case appeared doomed after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year ruled that the plaintiffs lacked standing because the U.S. Constitution mandates policymakers, not courts, to resolve the climate and energy problems their complaint raised.
But the plaintiffs, who were between the ages of 8 and 19 when they sued in 2015, sought to resuscitate their case by asking Aiken earlier this year to tweak their complaint to cure standing deficiencies.
The intervening states say they worry that the "breadth" of the claims gives the Biden administration "a tantalizing opportunity to try to alter nationwide energy policy under the guise of settling a case." The administration has sought to advance renewable-electricity production, including with a proposal that would cut subsidies for fossil fuel companies.
The plaintiffs' proposed amended complaint requests the court declare that a U.S. "national energy system" that destabilizes the climate by enabling the burning of fossil fuels violates their constitutional rights to life, liberty and takings, and the public trust doctrine. It leaves out a prior ask for a "remedial plan" to phase out carbon emissions from fossil fuels.
The states say they have "direct stakes" in many of the policies the plaintiffs challenge, including through subsidies they receive from federal programs that encourage fossil fuels production.
"A settlement that curtailed or ended these programs would strike a blow against the States," their filing says.
The case is Juliana v. United States, U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, No. 6:15-cv-01517.
For Juliana, et al: Julia Olson of Our Children's Trust; Philip Gregory of the Gregory Law Group
For the United States, et al: Clare Borono of the U.S. Department of Justice
For intervenors: Solicitor General Edmund LaCour with the Office of the Attorney General of Alabama