Montana's disregard of climate change violates right to clean environment, judge rules
Julia Olson, the chief legal counsel and executive director with Our Children’s Trust, called a decision by Judge Kathy Seeley in the First Judicial District Court of Montana “a sweeping win for our clients” and a “game-changer.” Photo illustration by Elmarie Jara/Shutterstock.
A law that bars the state of Montana from considering the impact of greenhouse gas emissions in environmental reviews violates the constitutional rights of 16 youths who sued over climate change, a state judge in Helena, Montana, has ruled.
Judge Kathy Seeley in the First Judicial District Court of Montana ruled Monday in a lawsuit by 16 young people that cited the state constitutional right to a “clean and healthful environment,” according to an Aug. 14 press release by Our Children’s Trust, the group representing the children.
Montana is one of six states with constitutional provisions that explicitly protect environmental rights, according to past reporting by the ABA Journal.
Julia Olson, the chief legal counsel and executive director with Our Children’s Trust, called the decision “a sweeping win for our clients” and a “game-changer” in a press release.
“Today, for the first time in U.S. history, a court ruled on the merits of a case that the government violated the constitutional rights of children through laws and actions that promote fossil fuels, ignore climate change, and disproportionately imperil young people,” Olson said.
Seeley had previously ruled that she didn’t have the power to order the state to develop a remedial plan, but she could grant declaratory relief.
Our Children’s Trust has pending climate change cases in four states besides Montana. At least 14 other climate change suits by young people have been dismissed, the Washington Post reports, citing a July report from the United Nations Environment Program and the Sabin Center.
The state of Montana had argued that lawmakers rather than the judiciary should address the youth’s grievances, and that the state’s impact on emissions are minuscule.
At issue was a “MEPA limitation,” a provision that bars the state from considering the impact of greenhouse gas emissions or climate change in environmental reviews under the Montana Environmental Policy Act.
The state is expected to appeal.
The case is Held v. State of Montana.
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