Montana judge sides with youth activists in historic climate trial

“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, chief legal counsel and executive director of Our Children’s Trust, which represented the youth in the case. “This is a huge win for Montana, for youth, for democracy, and for our climate. More rulings like this will certainly come.

Seeley in June heard seven days of testimony, including from young people who said Montana’s reliance on fossil fuels is lengthening the state’s wildfire season, drying up its rivers and worsening health conditions.

Republican Attorney General Austin Knudsen’s office called the ruling “absurd, but not surprising.”

Spokesperson Emily Flower added that Seeley had allowed attorneys for the youth to “put on a weeklong taxpayer-funded publicity stunt that was supposed to be a trial. “

The state constitution guarantees a right to a “clean and healthful environment,” and Seeley found the Legislature violated that protection when it twice revised the Montana Environmental Policy Act to exclude consideration of climate emissions.

Lawyers for the Oregon-based Our Children’s Trust, which represents the 16 youth in the case, Held v. Montana, had urged Seeley to consider instances in which courts have stepped in to correct governments that had failed to protect human rights.

They argued that young people are suffering “injustices wrought by climate change caused by a fossil fuel-based energy system imposed and perpetuated through the law.”

Attorneys for the state said during the trial that Montana could do little to affect global warming. And they argued that the court could not play a role because the state constitution gives the Montana Legislature the authority to pass laws.

State Assistant Attorney General Michael Russell told Seeley that the youth could not “assume preferential status under the law to evade the democratic process and force their policy views on all Montanans without their consent or participation.”

A version of this report first ran in E&E News’ Greenwire. Get access to more comprehensive and in-depth reporting on the energy transition, natural resources, climate change and more in E&E News.

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