Published on May 8th, 2017 | by Steve Hanley0
Climate Activists Greet UK Air Pollution Proposals With Derision
May 8th, 2017 by Steve Hanley
The UK government is twisting and turning like a worm on a hook, desperately trying to avoid taking any significant action to clean up the skies over its domain. Last November, the highest court in the land found the government’s air pollution proposals to be legally insufficient and gave ministers until April 24 to draw up new ones that would pass judicial scrutiny.
Then Prime Minister Theresa May decided to call a surprise election for June. Ministers hustled off to court to plead they couldn’t possibly present their plans on time because it might have an impact on the election. “Balderdash!” (or words to that effect) said the court. It ordered the ministers to be back in court with a completed plan no later than Friday, May 5.
The new plan to cut levels of diesel fumes, nitrogen oxides and particulates has been greeted with hoots of derision by climate advocates. They say the air pollution proposals are so weak, they flout the government’s obligation to protect public health. Medical experts say toxic air is responsible for tens of thousands of premature deaths every year.
Hoots Of Derision
The newly submitted air pollution plan contains few concrete details and leaves local officials to do most of the heavy lifting on air pollution measures. “These belated proposals are toothless and woefully inadequate,” said the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan.
James Thornton, founder and chief executive of ClientEarth, was caustic in his comments. “The more we study this appalling plan, the more unsatisfactory it gets,” he said. “This latest plan is even worse than the previous effort, which has already been ruled illegal by the high court.”
“The government should be ashamed of itself. It has dragged its heels for seven years while we choke on illegal and poisonous air; it’s been hauled through the supreme and high courts and had to be forced by a judge to publish this delayed plan.”
“We need to ask ourselves at what point will the government take this public health emergency seriously enough to start protecting our health and our children’s futures, instead of the car companies? The government must, and will be forced to, obey its own laws to protect our health and give us safe and cleaner air to breathe.”
Making Courts Do What Governments Won’t
Looking to the courts to do what governments refuse to do is becoming a popular tactic for climate change advocates. Last year, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled unanimously that the state government’s plans to limit emissions were deficient and ordered the administration to do a better job of protecting citizens from the harm caused by atmospheric pollution.
A federal court in Oregon is hearing a suit brought by Our Children’s Trust on behalf of 21 young plaintiffs. It advances the novel legal argument that freedom from physical harm caused by a toxic environment is guaranteed to all citizens by the US Constitution. Every fossil fuel interest under the sun has rushed to prevent the suit from going forward, but so far the plaintiffs, with support from major climate change advocates like 350.org and Bill McKibben, have managed to keep it alive.
The attorneys general of New York and Massachusetts are vigorously pursuing court action against ExxonMobil involving its decades long program of funding climate change denial. The company has taken the position that the action impinges on its right of free speech, essentially claiming its right to lie is constitutionally protected. Good luck with that strategy, Exxon!
Will the courts in the UK be able to force the government’s hand? So far, they have shown little regard for the measures proposed by government and a decreasing interest in tolerating further official foot dragging. It will be interesting to see what shenanigans the ministers come up with next in their desperate dance designed to do nothing while appearing to do something.
Government by judicial decree is not the most efficient way to run a country, but it may turn out to be the only option for the UK.
Source: The Guardian