12AD.10.7 Summary of Argument, Juliana v. United States, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Brief of Amici Curiae Nuckels Oil Co., Inc. et al,
Oil, packing, and trucking companies, along with small business groups, came together to file an amicus brief in support of the defendant’s case. This amicus brief argues that the plaintiffs’ argument about a “public trust” in the atmosphere cannot prevail, because no court has ruled that the federal government must enact policy based on the public trust doctrine, especially as it relates to air resources. The public trust doctrine is a legal principle that certain natural resources must be preserved for the public, and that the government must protect these resources for the people. It has also emphasized public accessibility to those resources. Historically, the public trust doctrine has been enforced at the state level and not for natural resources owned or managed by the federal government. Why should it matter that the public trust doctrine has been a matter of state, not federal, law? If the public trust doctrine covers such resources as waterways, why shouldn’t it logically extend to the atmosphere? What, if anything, does this amicus brief argue about the actual problem of climate change?
The public trust doctrine is one that dates back to ancient Roman times. In United States law, it has traditionally applied to protecting commerce, navigation, and fishing along waterways. In keeping with the environmental movement of the 1960s and ’70s, courts in that era began interpreting the public trust doctrine to require the protection of public trust resources so that they will be able to be enjoyed by current and future generations. Examples of these rulings include protecting public access to natural resources like the beach and ocean, and the conservation of water resources.
Significantly, most of these cases have centered on state-owned natural resources, particularly navigable waterways. There is little legal precedent for applying the public trust doctrine to federally owned natural resources, or to the atmosphere. However, a couple of state courts in recent years have ruled that air does qualify as one of the protected resources under the public trust doctrine. Other courts have disagreed. Legal scholars debate the reach and scope of the public trust doctrine, a doctrine that has evolved over the centuries to address new realities and developments. Students can discuss whether the extension to the atmosphere is a logical one.