Susan Archer / Al Jazeera

Teen fighting climate change sues North Carolina environmental regulators

Hallie Turner, 13, who brought petition last year to reduce state's carbon emissions, begins legal battle

A 13-year-old North Carolina girl, who is suing the state over its greenhouse gas emissions, argued in court Friday that regulators don’t have the right to dismiss a petition she made asking the state to limit carbon pollution.

Hallie Turner, a Raleigh middle school student, submitted a petition in December 2014 calling for the North Carolina Environmental Management Commission (EMC) to cut the state’s emissions by 4 percent each year until 2050.

This isn’t Turner’s first foray into public climate activism. She has been writing blog posts in support of cutting emissions and urging action against climate change since the age of 10.

The lawsuit has its roots in a petition Turner filed in December 2014, asking the commission for rule changes limiting carbon emissions so that they reach a peak in 2015. A local Raleigh attorney, Gayle Goldsmith Tuch, and Our Children’s Trust, an Oregon-based nonprofit organization that focuses on stopping climate change, provided Turner with assistance and pro-bono legal services. 

The commission rejected her petition, saying it didn’t have the power to make the changes. The lawsuit challenges that argument. The judge in the case said he would make his next decision in the case by Thanksgiving.

In an interview with Al Jazeera, Turner said she wants North Carolina and the world to do more to limit carbon emissions. “We need to act now,” she said. “The EMC took away my right to make my voice heard. If the judge decides to support our petition, it’ll be nice to know that our voice is being heard.”

The commission did not respond to a request for comment. The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ), however, did offer a response.

“The state environmental department is not a party to this litigation but it’s important to point out that North Carolina is a national leader in cleaning up its power sector and improving air quality," said Mike Rusher, a spokesman for the NCDEQ, saying the state had cut carbon emissions "20 percent since 2005 without any federal intervention."

Frank Holleman, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center who has fought lawsuits over pollution from coal plants in North Carolina, said today’s hearing is just the first step. “If she wins this fight, then she starts over again with the EMC and will have the task of convincing the members of that commission to take her petition seriously and to work to see what they can do to fight climate change,” he said.

“In terms of obstacles, there are very powerful moneyed interests that will fight her — oil and gas and coal industries and their lobbyists and lawyers,” he added.

Turner, an eighth-grader who enjoys social studies, said she’s not sure what kind of career she wants, but knows that the environment will remain important to her.

“I’m going to keep fighting for this issue for as long as it’s relevant, until we don’t have to worry about this,” she said.

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