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Court Rejects Iowa Girl's Plea for Climate Action

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IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) An appeals court declined Wednesday to order the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to adopt rules limiting greenhouse gas emissions, saying the agency does not have a legal duty to protect the atmosphere for future generations.

The Iowa Court of Appeals declined to extend Iowa's public trust doctrine, which requires the state to protect lakes, rivers and nearby lands for public use, to include the air in the atmosphere. Judges said they had no legal precedent to expand the doctrine, which has been narrowly interpreted in previous cases. But one of them seemed to invite the Iowa Supreme Court to apply the doctrine to the air, saying "there is a sound public policy basis for doing so."

The ruling upheld the DNR's rejection of a petition filed in 2011 by the group Kids vs. Global Warming and teenage Des Moines activist Glori Dei Filippone, who asked the agency to make rules requiring cuts in emissions of carbon dioxide in order to limit the effects of climate change.

The case was highly publicized because of the way Filippone, then 13, was treated after she delivered a detailed presentation calling for action on her petition during a meeting of the Environmental Protection Commission. Commission chairman Dave Petty, a Republican cattle rancher from Eldora, scolded Filippone for telling the commission she was a vegetarian, saying, "that's when you lost me in your presentation."

"I'd like to introduce you to my daughter because she will absolutely convince you that you are wrong on that," Petty told Filippone. The commission voted 7-0 to reject the petition. Then-DNR Director Roger Lande upheld the denial, saying the state would wait to act in anticipation of pending federal rules requiring new limits on emissions from power plants and petroleum refineries.

The appeals court said Petty's comment about vegetarianism was unfortunate but ruled that the commission and the DNR nonetheless gave fair consideration to Filippone's petition before denying it.

West Des Moines attorney Channing Dutton said he decided to represent Filippone and Our Children's Trust, an Oregon-based environmental group sponsoring the petition, after he was outraged at how she was treated. He said he would ask the Iowa Supreme Court for further review, calling it a critically important case.

"We will ask the Supreme Court to review it and correct the mistake," he said. "This climate issue is one that's never going to go away. It will grow larger and larger and more urgent with each passing storm. The duty of the courts is to protect the atmosphere. It might be hard to do, but it still needs to be protected."

Dutton said he was encouraged by the concurrence by Judge Richard Doyle, who noted that lawmakers adopted a law in 1989 that said Iowa's policy was "to protect its natural resource heritage of air, soils, waters, and wildlife" for present and future generations.

"The Legislature, the voice of the people, has spoken in terms as clear as a crisp, cloudless, autumn Iowa sky," Doyle wrote. "Nevertheless, in view of our Supreme Court's stated reluctance to extend the public trust doctrine beyond rivers, lakes, and the lands adjacent thereto, I do not feel it is appropriate for a three-judge panel of this court to take on the task of expanding the doctrine to include air."

Judge Thomas Bower noted that the state high court has cautioned against overextending the doctrine in prior cases, rejecting attempts to apply it to forest areas and public alleyways.

"Because the DNR does not have a duty under the public trust doctrine to restrict greenhouse gases to protect the atmosphere," Bower wrote, "its denial of the proposed rule was not unreasonable."

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