(Image Credit: geralt/pixabay)
This is a bit of old news, but I wanted to see how it played out first, and all aftermath.
On August 14th, Montana judge Kathy Seeley ruled in a group of youths' favor after they sued the state of Montana in the country’s first constitutional climate change trial for failing to provide a clean and healthful environment. It also led to the abolishment of two laws, SB 557 and HB 971, which modified the Montana Environmental Policy Act (MEPA). The state attorney general’s office plans to appeal the ruling.
This Held v. Montana trial began two months ago, finding the plaintiffs “have experienced past and ongoing injuries resulting from the State’s failure to consider [greenhouse gases] and climate change, including injuries to their physical and mental health, homes and property, recreational, spiritual, and aesthetic interests, tribal and cultural traditions, economic security, and happiness.”
“Plaintiffs have proven that as children and youth, they are disproportionately harmed by fossil fuel pollution and climate impacts,” the 103-page order says. “The Defendants have the authority under the statutes by which they operate to protect Montana’s environment and natural resources, protect the health and safety of Montana’s youth, and alleviate and avoid climate impacts by limiting fossil fuel activities that occur in Montana when the MEPA analysis shows that those activities are resulting in degradation or other harms which violate the Montana Constitution.”
The 16 youth plaintiffs involved in this lawsuit say that Montana exacerbated climate change and promoted the fossil fuel industry, all of which led to the failure to provide a clean and healthful environment. Additionally, they aimed to get the state to drop a MEPA provision that prevented officials from looking into the effects of climate change and greenhouse gas emissions while allowing new energy projects.
Montana needs to modify this provision. It can do this in two ways, including “1) have discretion to deny permits for fossil fuel activities when the activities would result in GHG emissions that cause unconstitutional degradation and depletion of Montana’s environment and natural resources, or infringement of the constitutional rights of Montana’s children and youth; or 2) the permitting statutes themselves must be unconstitutional.”
However, we could see the ruling face legal challenges, which means the case goes to the Supreme Court of Montana. By doing so, the youth plaintiffs are then forced to fight a long legal battle before the policy can be modified. When this lawsuit began in June, lead plaintiff Rikki Held, a 5th generation rancher, said her home and businesses were hit hard by the wildfires that have worsened due to climate change.
If this case goes well, it could trigger a change for similar lawsuits filed by other plaintiffs across the country. There are four pending cases in other states, including one against Hawaii’s Department of Transportation, that could go to trial in 2024.
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