Teen Loses Climate Change Lawsuit But Vows to Keep Fighting

by | November 30, 2015

By Anne Blythe

Hallie Turner, the 13-year-old girl who took North Carolina to court over climate change, received disappointing news the day before Thanksgiving.

A Wake County Superior Court judge ruled against her effort to overturn a December 2014 decision by the N.C. Environmental Management Commission.

But with the pluck of a teen wise beyond her years, Hallie said Friday the ruling from Judge Mike Morgan had not deterred her.

"It's an issue that I'm always going to continue trying to make a difference in," Hallie said during a phone interview. "There's lots of next steps that can be taken."

Hallie, an eighth-grader at Ligon Middle School who has been marching and rallying against global warming since the 4th grade, is one of a number of teens taking their states and politicians to court over climate change.

With the help of lawyers from Our Children's Trust, an Oregon-based climate change non-profit, attorneys from Duke University's Environmental Law and Policy Clinic, and Gayle Goldsmith Tuch, a Forsyth County lawyer, Hallie petitioned the state Environmental Management Commission to adopt rules that would reduce greenhouse gases. Commission members are appointed by the governor and leaders of the N.C. Senate and House of Representatives.

In her petition almost a year ago to the 15 members of the commission, Hallie asked for a rule that would require North Carolina to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by at least 4 percent annually.

The commissioners never got to the crux of her request, which included scientific data and more to support her theory for why the state should curb greenhouse gas emissions. Commissioner Benne Hutson rejected Hallie's petition because he said it was incomplete. He also added that North Carolina law prohibited environmental agencies from enacting state laws stricter than federal law.

Earlier this month, the commission adopted a proposal from the state Department of Environmental Quality that is much less stringent than what was suggested by Hallie and the attorneys who helped her draft her petition.

After waiving the routine 30-day comment period, the commission adopted a rule to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at Duke Energy power plants by 0.4 percent. A strategy put forward by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would require a 12-percent reduction by 2030.

Tuch, one of Hallie's lawyers, said Friday she did not know why Morgan ruled against her. Morgan has not yet issued his formal order. It is expected in couple of weeks.

As the state gears up for an expected legal battle over the greenhouse gas emissions strategy adopted earlier this month, Hallie and her legal team are thinking about next steps in their case.

Several options are under consideration, including an appeal of Morgan's ruling or taking a different petition to the Environmental Management Commission that might clear the hurdle as complete and something the 15 members could put out for public review.

Hallie said the judicial process has been educational. "It's connected to so many things that I've been learning at school in social studies," she said.

Hallie's parents have learned a lot, too. When numerous media outlets shared news about the Wake County court hearing earlier this month, the Turners were amazed by some of the negative comments posted on the sites. Commenters who challenged the idea of global warming accused the adults supporting Hallie of exploitation. Some directed derogatory comments at the teen, too.

"My reaction was just a bit of astonishment that people were that trivial and bitter," said Kelly Turner, Hallie's mother.

Climate change is too urgent for any of us to sit quietly while the state fails to take significant action.

Hallie Turner

Mark Turner, a regular blogger on city issues and more, singled out some of the comments on a post he wrote about the experience.

Hallie brushed off the downside to her activism. She maintains that she was not pushed into filing the petition or lawsuit. The adults who have been beside her are mentors and supporters, but the impetus is her own, she said.

"The comments don't really bother me," she said. What troubled her, Hallie said, were the commenters who questioned scientific data that she contends bolster her push for change.

Hallie encouraged people disappointed in Morgan's ruling to turn out for a Dec. 17 hearing at the Archdale Building in Raleigh. The hearing is to get feedback on the energy strategy adopted earlier this month by the Environmental Management Commission.

"Climate change is too urgent for any of us to sit quietly while the state fails to take significant action," Hallie said.

(c)2015 The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)