DOJ seeks to limit scientists’ testimony at climate trial

Source: Benjamin Hulac, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The Trump administration doesn’t want the trial in a landmark lawsuit brought by a group of young Americans to become a climate change symposium.

In court documents yesterday, the government pressed the judge in the case to limit the testimony of James Hansen and five other prominent climate researchers whom plaintiffs have called as expert witnesses.

The administration is seeking to limit the trial’s focus on the scientific details of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. Hansen, one of the first researchers to raise alarm about global warming, and the other experts each filed reports in the case at the plaintiffs’ request.

“The Court should exercise its discretion here by excluding any testimony reflected in the six reports that is cumulative or that relates to matters not in dispute,” Jeffrey Wood, an official in the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, said in a motion. “The testimony should be precluded.”

The request came the same day that Judge Ann Aiken of the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon denied the government’s latest attempt to halt the trial before it even begins.

Twenty-one children and young adults first brought the lawsuit, Juliana v. United States, in 2015 against the Obama administration, alleging that the government has violated what they say is their constitutional right to live in a safe and stable climate.

The Trump administration is aiming to bar the climate scientists from testifying about scientific information the government has accepted as fact, according to both the federal defendants and the plaintiffs.

“This is not an attempt to preclude their testimony in its entirety,” Andrea Rodgers, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said through a spokeswoman. “This is very narrow in scope, and we will be responding to their motion the end of the week.”

It is the latest indication that the government does not plan to challenge the plaintiffs on the science of climate change at the trial beginning Oct. 29 and instead will focus on legal arguments of standing to undermine their claims (Climatewire, Oct. 12).

And although the plaintiffs plan to call expert witnesses to detail the science, effects and causes of climate change, government lawyers are unlikely to clash with them over climate science.

In other words, the trial likely won’t be a “tutorial” on climate science such as the one a federal judge in California ordered earlier this year in litigation brought by cities against oil companies over alleged climate damages.

The government, in fact, admitted in January 2017 in Julianathat it agreed with the fundamentals of climate science.

In a little-noticed court document that month, the government acknowledged that the United States has been an outsize force in man-made climate change.

The country bears a significant responsibility for climate change, DOJ lawyers said then, acknowledging that the country emitted more than 25 percent of global carbon dioxide between 1850 and 2012 (Climatewire, Jan. 18, 2017).

Along with Hansen, the experts that the government is seeking to limit are: Steven Running, formerly of the University of Montana; Kevin Trenberth, a climate analyst at the National Center for Atmospheric Research; Eric Rignot, a glaciologist at the University of California, Irvine; Harold Wanless, a sea-level rise expert at the University of Miami; and Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, director of the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland.

In the court document, Wood said that the government accepts as fact that climate change is lowering snowpack levels and increasing sea levels, and that it is supporting “adverse” effects on “storms and hurricanes, wildfires, drought, floods” and other weather events.

The government also revealed its witness list yesterday.

Beyond two medical doctors who have challenged the links between public health and climate change, the list includes several university professors who have worked on U.N. climate reports (Climatewire, Oct. 15).

It also includes 13 government officials who, if called to the stand, will testify about the authenticity of federal government records on climate change, according to the Department of Justice.