Young Montanans Score Huge Win in Climate Trial

Judge sides with activists who said state violated their right to a clean environment
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 14, 2023 1:34 PM CDT
Young Montanans Score Huge Win in Climate Trial
Plaintiffs listen to testimony during a hearing in the climate change lawsuit, Held vs. Montana, at the Lewis and Clark County Courthouse, Tuesday, June 13, 2023, in Helena, Montana.   (Thom Bridge/Independent Record via AP)

Young environmental activists have scored a huge victory in Montana, where a judge has agreed that the state violated their constitutional right to "a clean and healthful environment." In the first-of-its-kind Held v Montana case, District Judge Kathy Seeley ruled that it was unconstitutional for the coal and oil-producing state to allow fossil fuel development without considering the effect on the climate, the AP reports. The 16 plaintiffs in the case, ages 5 to 22, argued in June that the state was violating its own constitution—and destroying their future. Rikki Held, the plaintiff the case is named for, said climate change was hurting her family's ranch.

Experts say the win could "energize the environmental movement and reshape climate litigation across the country," per the Washington Post. Julia Olson, an attorney representing the young Montanans, describe the ruling as 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." "This is a huge win for Montana, for youth, for democracy, and for our climate," said Olson. She is the founder of the Our Children's Trust nonprofit, which has filed similar lawsuits on behalf of young people in every state since 2011.

This was the first such case to go to trial, though a district court ruled in June that a federal case brought by the group can proceed to trial, the Guardian reports. Another case in Hawaii is expected to go to trial in June next year. The Montana victory sets an important precedent, experts say, though since bringing the law into compliance with the state constitution will be left to the GOP-controlled state legislature, it's not clear whether it will lead to major changes, the AP notes. (More climate change stories.)

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