This story was written by AP reporter Audrey McAvoy in Honolulu.
HONOLULU (AP) — Fourteen Hawaii children and teenagers filed a lawsuit Wednesday, alleging the state is violating the state constitution by operating a transportation system that harms the climate and infringes upon the plaintiffs’ right to a clean and healthy environment.
The youths aged 9 through 18 said in their lawsuit that the Hawaii Department of Transportation has consistently prioritized building highways over other types of transportation.
“Because of this climate pollution, children in Hawaii are experiencing grave threats to their ability to live healthful lives in the Islands now and into the future,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit said one plaintiff, a 14-year-old Native Hawaiian raised in Kaneohe, is from a family that has farmed taro for more than 10 generations. But extreme droughts and heavy rains caused by climate change are reducing crop yields and threatening her ability to continue this cultural practice, the complaint said. Rising sea levels also threaten to put their lands underwater, it said.
The plaintiffs asked the court to declare the state has an obligation under the constitution to protect the climate and atmosphere for the benefit of present and future generations.
The public interest law firms Earthjustice and Our Children’s Trust are representing the young people.
The lawsuit, filed in state court in Honolulu, names the department, Transportation Director Jade Butay and Gov. David Ige as defendants.
Jodi Leong, a spokesperson for Ige, said he can’t comment on pending litigation.
A representative for the department and Butay didn’t immediately comment.