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Landmark Montana Climate Ruling

Updated: Aug 26, 2023

Earlier this year, OGN reported that sixteen young Montanans were suing their state over its support of the fossil fuel industry in a climate lawsuit that was the first of its kind to go to trial. If politicians and governments don't act in a manner that their constituents believe to be appropriate, the law courts have frequently sided with the plaintiffs to stop climate damaging activities and the people's rights. So, these youth activists sued, claiming that the state had breached their “inalienable” right to “a clean and healthful environment.”

A Montana state court has just ruled in their favor, saying the state's policies violated their constitutional right to a clean environment by prohibiting agencies from considering the effects of greenhouse gas emissions. For the youth climate movement, and until now the legally undefeated fossil fuel industry in America, it was a seismic shock.

For young people who are frustrated by the growing list of climate disasters and governments' apparent inability to do anything about it, this was a major victory. At last, someone is listening. In this case a judge.

But the verdict will go down as a landmark one, in that it will give the younger generation hope that there is still time for them to make a difference. And it will put Big Oil and Big Coal on notice that the next generation of politicians won’t be so friendly.

At issue in Held v. Montana were a pair of state laws, including an amendment to the Montana Environmental Policy Act, which prevented the state from evaluating climate impacts when approving energy and mining projects. Only two other state constitutions have such language: Pennsylvania and New York.

The judge invalidated Montana's policies, ruling the limitations didn't protect the state's natural resources from depletion and that its degradation would continue without a remedy. The judge also noted the state didn't adequately explain its reasoning for setting the limitations.

Montana is home to the largest recoverable coal reserves in the US, accounting for nearly 30 percent of the nation's total.


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