Montana Violated Youth’s Right To A ‘Clean And Healthful Environment,’ Judge Rules In Historic Case

The verdict may serve as a stepping stone for other legal decisions regarding climate change and the environment.

Sixteen youth climate activists were awarded a victory in a milestone case on Monday solidifying that Montana violated their right to a “clean and healthful environment.”

In a 103-page document, Judge Kathy Seeley wrote that the young plaintiffs, ages 5 to 22, in Held v. State of Montana proved they are “disproportionately harmed by fossil fuel pollution and climate impacts,” which violated the young Montanans’ right to a safe climate.

A provision in the Montana Environmental Policy Act prohibits the state from considering the impact of fossil fuel emissions on climate change. Seely ruled that to be unconstitutional and will require the state legislature to rework the policy, according to The Associated Press.

The activists argued the state’s role in pushing fossil fuel pollution only worsened climate change and subsequently harmed young people. The state argued that Montana has only played a minute role in the global issue of climate change.

The verdict came after a seven-day trial in June. It was the first constitutional environmental case to go to trial and may serve as a stepping stone for other legal decisions regarding climate change and the environment.

“I know that climate change is a global issue, but Montana has to take responsibility for our part in that,” 22-year-old plaintiff Rikki Held said during the trial, according to The Washington Post.

Emily Flower, a spokesperson for Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen, told AP that the state plans to appeal the decision and called the ruling “absurd.” (The state must appeal within 60 days of Monday’s ruling.)

“Montanans can’t be blamed for changing the climate — even the plaintiffs’ expert witnesses agreed that our state has no impact on the global climate,” she said. “Their same legal theory has been thrown out of federal court and courts in more than a dozen states. It should have been here as well, but they found an ideological judge who bent over backward to allow the case to move forward and earn herself a spot in their next documentary.”

The 16 youth plaintiffs were represented by multiple attorneys with Our Children’s Trust, the Western Environmental Law Center and McGarvey Law.

“There are political decisions being made without regard to the best scientific evidence and the effects they will have on our youngest generations,” Phil Gregory, an attorney for the plaintiffs, told The Washington Post. “This is a monumental decision.”

Julia Olson, chief legal counsel and executive director of Our Children’s Trust, also commended the verdict.

“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 Monday.

“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,” she added. “This is a huge win for Montana, for youth, for democracy and for our climate. More rulings like this will certainly come.”

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