‘Gamechanger’ Ruling for Young Climate Activists in Historic Montana Trial
A ruling in favor of a group of young plaintiffs who had claimed Montana state officials had violated their right to a healthy environment has received a “sweeping win” that gives more ammunition to tackling the climate crisis.
One of the lawyers for the 16 plaintiffs, who are five to 22 years of age, called the ruling a “game-changer.”
“As fires rage in the West, fueled by fossil fuel pollution, today’s ruling in Montana is a game-changer that marks a turning point in this generation’s efforts to save the planet from the devastating effects of human-caused climate chaos,” said Julia Olson, the founder of legal nonprofit Our Children’s Trust, which brought the case on behalf of the young challengers, reported The New York Times.
In the case, the plaintiffs claimed Montana’s fossil fuel policies contributed to climate change in a way that directly affected their lives. By doing so, they also violated state constitutional provisions that guarantee a “clean and healthful environment” to the citizens of the state.
“I’m so speechless right now,” said Eva, a plaintiff who was 14 at the time of the filing of the suit, as The Guardian reported. “I’m really just excited and elated and thrilled.”
Judge Kathy Seeley who decided the case said that the state of Montana was contributing to climate change by prohibiting government agencies from taking climate impacts into consideration when deciding whether to approve energy projects.
Olson brought the suit along with McGarvey Law and Western Environmental Law Center in the trial that ended on June 20.
“In a sweeping win for our clients, the Honorable Judge Kathy Seeley declared Montana’s fossil fuel-promoting laws unconstitutional and enjoined their implementation,” said Melissa Hornbein, an attorney at the Western Environmental Law Center, as reported by The Guardian.
The ruling will not stop the state from burning fossil fuels or prevent mining, but it will result in the reversal of the recently passed Montana law prohibiting state agencies from considering fossil fuel pollution that contributes to climate change, CNN reported.
“Plaintiffs have a fundamental constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment, which includes climate as part of the environmental life support system,” Seeley’s order said, as reported by CNN.
Young people in the U.S. had previously filed climate crisis cases, but none had made it to trial.
“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, as CNN reported. “This is a huge win for Montana, for youth, for democracy, and for our climate. More rulings like this will certainly come.”