In mid-2022, 14 young Hawaiians filed a lawsuit against the Hawaii Department of Transportation (HDOT), claiming it wasn’t doing enough to prevent climate change. Despite the state’s commitment to reducing carbon emissions, HDOT is prioritizing highways and other carbon-intensive projects, the lawsuit claims. After waiting for over seven months, the plaintiffs will finally get their day in court this week.
Navahine F. v. Hawaii Department of Transportation will begin at 10:30 a.m. HST on Thursday, January 26. The state is attempting to dismiss the case. It argues that HDOT is working towards the state’s goal of energy independence and freedom from fossil fuels by 2045. However, the 14 plaintiffs want it to go to trial instead, arguing that HDOT’s actions speak louder than words.
This case has received a lot of attention because of the age of its plaintiffs. Its 14 plaintiffs range in age from 20 at the oldest to just 8 at the youngest. Media coverage has dubbed the lawsuit things like the “Climate Kids” lawsuit. Despite the sweet name, these kids are dead serious about this lawsuit.
What Exactly Is the Hawaii Climate Lawsuit About?
The lawsuit hinges on a pledge that the state of Hawaii made to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2045. The Aloha State has worked to make a plan for the future of its climate, including declaring a climate state of emergency. This is especially important in Hawaii, as the state is very vulnerable to climate issues due to its coastal settlements and tropical climate.
However, the lawsuit alleges that HDOT specifically is not holding up its end of the bargain. By prioritizing the construction of highways, roads, and other car-centric infrastructure, the plaintiffs say that HDOT is actively courting fossil fuel interests. This would constitute an illegal action by HDOT, as it would be going against state policy.
The lawsuit contains another argument that may have far broader implications than just this specific lawsuit. The complaint filed by the plaintiffs in June alleges that the state is violating the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights by failing to protect Hawaii’s environment. It argues that the state is actively taking away the kids’ right to happy, healthy lives in Hawaii due to its neglect of its responsibilities.
This argument will be very hard to prove, but it’s an interesting one. Hawaii and the rest of the country will be watching this lawsuit intently. You can find out more about the lawsuit here and even tune in via Zoom!