Judge rules in favor of Montana youth in landmark climate case

A group of teenagers in Montana won a landmark lawsuit Monday, a The judge ruled A state’s failure to consider climate change when approving fossil fuel projects is unconstitutional.

The case, Hold v. Montana, coming off a summer of scorching heat and deadly wildfires, marks a victory in the expanding fight against government subsidies for oil, gas and coal.

“As fires continue to burn across the West fueled by fossil fuel pollution, today’s ruling in Montana marks a turning point in this generation’s efforts to save the planet from the devastating effects of human-caused climate chaos,” Julia said. Olson is the founder of Our Children’s Foundation, a legal nonprofit group that brought the case on behalf of the youth. “This is a huge win for Montana, for young people, for democracy, and for our climate,” he said.

Montana, a major coal and gas producing state that gets about a third of its energy from burning coal, must consider climate change when deciding whether to approve or renew fossil fuel projects.

The Montana Attorney General’s Office said the state will appeal, which will send the case to the state Supreme Court.

“This ruling is ridiculous, but not surprising from a judge who allowed plaintiffs’ attorneys to conduct a week-long taxpayer-funded publicity stunt that was supposed to be a trial,” said Emily Flower of Austin Knudsen, a spokeswoman for the attorney general. In a statement. “Can’t Blame Montanans for Changing Climate.”

The lawsuit is part of a wave of climate change-related lawsuits targeting corporations and governments around the world. States and cities have sued companies like Exxon, Chevron and Shell, claiming damages from climate disasters and that the companies knew for decades that their products were causing global warming. And individuals are now suing state and federal governments, saying they have enabled the fossil fuel industry and failed to protect their citizens.

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Michael Burger, executive director of Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Litigation, said the Montana case will resonate across the country.

“This is climate science on trial, and the fact that the court found is that the science is correct,” Mr. Burger said. “Emissions contribute to climate change, climate impacts are real, people can individually experience climate impacts, and every ton of greenhouse gas emissions matters. These are important factual findings, and courts in the United States and around the world will look to this decision.

The Montana case revolved around language in the state constitution that guarantees residents the “right to a clean and healthy environment” and stipulates that the state and individuals are responsible for maintaining and improving the environment for “present and future generations.”

A handful of other states have similar guarantees, and youths in Hawaii, Utah and Virginia have filed lawsuits that are slowly moving through the courts. A federal lawsuit brought by teenagers that has been stalled for years is moving once again, heading to a trial in Oregon in June.

“It’s monumental,” said 15-year-old Badge Bassey, one of the Montana plaintiffs. “It’s an absolutely beautiful thing. I hope it continues this upward trend of positivity.

The Montana case, brought by plaintiffs ages 5 to 22, was the first to go to trial in the United States. Although the state has argued that Montana’s emissions are low relative to the rest of the world, plaintiffs have argued that the state should do more to consider how emissions contribute to drought, wildfires and other growing risks.

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Since 2011, state law has prevented officials from weighing “actual or potential impacts of a regional, national or global nature” when conducting environmental reviews of major projects. In May, while the case was pending, the Legislature updated the law more specifically, barring states from “assessing greenhouse gas emissions and related impacts to the state’s climate or climate beyond state borders.” Approval of new projects.

Montana has 5,000 gas wells, 4,000 oil wells, four oil refineries and six coal mines. The state is “a major emitter of greenhouse gas emissions in the world, in absolute terms, on a per capita basis, and historically,” wrote Montana District Court Judge Kathy Seeley. The court found that Montana is responsible for nearly as much carbon dioxide as Argentina, the Netherlands or Pakistan, adding up the amount of fossil fuels extracted, burned, processed and exported by the state.

In his ruling, the judge found that the state’s emissions had “proven to be a substantial factor” in affecting the climate. He ruled that laws limiting regulators’ ability to consider climate effects were unconstitutional.

“Montanans have a fundamental constitutional right to a clean and healthy environment that includes climate as part of the ecological life support system,” he added.

The trial, held in June, included testimony from climate scientists who described how rising greenhouse gas emissions from human activities are already harming health and the environment, and how those effects will accelerate if action is not taken.

Many of the young plaintiffs testified about the effects they saw — extreme weather events that threatened the family farm, warming rivers and streams that harmed fish, wildfire smoke that worsened asthma, and natural disturbances that disrupted tribal traditions. They also talked about their mental health and the anguish they felt as they considered a future blighted by environmental degradation.

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The government, which was given a week to present its case, adjourned a day later and surprised many legal experts by not calling its key expert witness.

While Montana mining and oil, gas and coal interests have a long history in Helena, the state also has a deep environmental legacy. In 1972, with widespread popular support to protect the state’s lands, the state constitution was amended to state that the state “must maintain and promote a clean and healthy environment in Montana for present and future generations.”

The origins of the case go back nearly a decade. In 2011, Our Children’s Foundation Montana appealed to the Supreme Court It must rule that governments have a duty to address climate change. The court declined to weigh in, effectively telling the panel to start in lower courts. Attorneys for Our Children’s Foundation identified potential plaintiffs, listed ways Montana is affected by climate change and documented the state’s extensive support for the fossil fuel industry, including permits, subsidies and favorable regulations.

“The legal community was afraid that judges wouldn’t understand these cases,” Ms. Olson said of Judge Seeley’s decision. “It was digestible, she understood it, and the findings were beautiful.”

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