A Montana state judge ruled on Monday that Montana oil and gas policies violate the constitutional rights of young people to a healthy environment. This is a major victory for youth climate plaintiffs, which will likely resonate across the legal landscape.
According to Judge Kathy Seeley, of the Lewis and Clark County District Court, in Helena, Mont., an adjustment to the Montana Energy Policy Act, which limits the environmental factors that are required to be considered when a project is permitted, violates Montana constitutional rights to a clean environment.
Michael Gerrard of Columbia Law School’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law said, “I believe this is the strongest climate change decision ever issued by any court.”
Montana is only one of three states with a constitutional affirmative right to healthful environments. This legal language was the cornerstone of the held v. Montanayouth lawsuit, in which young people were asked to testify about how climate change had impacted their lives.
Gerrard wrote in an email that “putting a human face to this global problem was successful in this courtroom and could be replicated elsewhere.”
A spokesperson for Montana Attorney-General Austin Knudsen said that the ruling was absurd and the state would appeal it.
Emily Flower, a spokeswoman for the Federal Court and more than a dozen state courts, said that this “legal theory” had been rejected by those courts. It should have been in this country as well, but an ideological judge bent over backwards to allow the case move forward and earn her a spot on their next documentary.
Judge Seeley has issued declaratory relief that will impact Montana’s future policies by “invalidating laws prohibiting analyses and remedies based upon GHG emissions and climate effects.”
The decision stated that “by prohibiting considerations of climate change and GHG emission, and how additional emissions will contribute climate change or be in line with the Montana Constitution the MEPA Limitation is unconstitutional and violates Plaintiffs right to a healthy and clean environment.”
In June, the 16 youth plaintiffs in Held V. Montana appeared at their trial. The case lasted for more than a week and was held at Lewis and Clark County District Court. The youths were represented by climate scientists, policy analysts, and a 1972 Montana Constitutional Convention delegate.
The plaintiffs belong to a group of young climate activists who are suing US governments over the degradation of climate caused by oil and gas development.
Juliana V. US,a landmark case against the federal Government that was approved for trial by a district judge of Oregon in June.
Our Children’s Trust, a legal nonprofit, is leading the cases. They praised the “sweeping” victory that occurred in Montana on Monday.
Our Children’s Trust’s Chief Legal Counsel Julia Olson stated in a press release that “Today for the first time ever in U.S. History, a Court ruled that the Government violated constitutional rights of Children through laws and policies that promote fossil fuels and ignore climate change and disproportionately harm young people.”
Court observers say that the case could influence other climate-related legal battles involving rights-based claims. This may pave the way for future lawsuits.
In courts around the world, lawsuits that assert a safe environment as a human or constitutional rights are common. However, advocates who file these lawsuits have had mixed success.
This is slowly changing. The Hawaii Supreme Court also recognized the human right to a climate stable in its March ruling against a developer of biomass power plants.
Lisa Benjamin, professor at Lewis & Clark Law School, said that the emphasis on climate science is a significant sea change. Benjamin said that it’s notable that the court identified policies and laws as barriers to a transition to clean energy.
Benjamin wrote in an email: “Simply stated, the court said that these laws must be changed.” This case could serve as a precedent for states with similar constitutional provisions.
Maya van Rossum of the Green Amendment national movement, who founded the Green Amendment for Generations, says that the clear constitutional language established by this ruling could also help to boost the push for affirmative rights on climate in other states, which are considering similar provisions for their constitutions.
Van Rossum stated that this was important because it would help ensure that these constitutional provisions were stronger in terms of climate when they are adopted by other states.