Public trust question lingers over emissions suit in Texas

A judge ruled in favor of a group of minors, including a 3-year-old boy, who sued the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for failing to uphold the public trust doctrine by refusing to curb carbon emissions.

Judge Gisela Triana said the public trust doctrine, which mandates the state preserve certain resources for public use, isn’t exclusively reserved for water. She said in a filing last week that the same principal can be applied to “all natural resources,” including air.

In the ruling, Triana said the TCEQ’s “refusal to exercise its authority,” is “a reasonable exercise of its discretion” due to numerous cases over emissions involving the Environmental Protection Agency.

So for now, the state gets a temporary pass, but after federal guidelines are settled, the state could be temporarily forced to protect the air for future generations.

Eamon Umphress, 16; TVH, a 3-year-old boy; a 5-year-old and Angela Bosner-Lain, 25, sued the TCEQ in July after the agency refused to adopt a plan to cut carbon emissions, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

The two young children and Umphress are related to Brigid Shea and Karin Ascot, two prominent Texas environmentalists. Adam Abrams, who is representing the group, told NPR StateImpact that Shea and Ascot did not ask the children to sue on their behalf.

TCEQ argued last year that the public trust doctrine did not apply and the rules would stifle businesses in the Lone Star State.

“While I don’t discount sincerity on the part of petitioners,” commission Chairman Bryan Shaw told the Statesman, “I believe the proposed measures would actually largely just shift the emissions of greenhouse gases out of Texas into other states and other countries.”

The suit against the TCEQ asked whether states should be mandated to protect natural resources, such as air and water, for future generations and what resources should be included in those protections.

Umphress, who is the son of Shea, said he believes the state has the duty to do something to protect those resources for future generations.

“I really feel like the environment is a nonrenewable resource we have to protect,” he told the Statesman, “in a way we can’t comprehend right now.”

Judge rules against TCEQ on public trust

Minors sue TCEQ over public trust doctrine