MT Judge Hands Historic Win to Young Plaintiffs in Climate Change Case
August 16, 2023
Montana is violating the rights of young people with policies that prohibit the state from considering climate change effects when it reviews coal mining, natural gas extraction and other fossil fuel projects, a state judge said Monday.
The decision by Judge Kathy Seeley in Helena marked a major victory in the first youth-led climate case to reach trial in the U.S. and could set an important precedent for similar cases nationwide.
The 16 plaintiffs sued Montana in 2020, when they were ages 2 to 18, claiming the state’s permitting of projects like coal and natural gas production exacerbated the climate crisis, despite a 1972 amendment to the Montana constitution requiring the state to protect and improve the environment.
In a June trial, the youths argued that despite its sparse population, Montana is responsible for an outsized share of global emissions. The state is a major producer of coal, oil and gas that is shipped elsewhere and is also the home of pipelines and other infrastructure needed to ship those fuels.
The state had argued that climate policy should not be set by courts and the plaintiffs hadn’t proved that the global crisis could be attributed to Montana’s relatively small emissions.
A spokesperson for the Montana attorney general’s office called the ruling “absurd,” and Seeley an “ideological judge who bent over backward to allow the case to move forward.” The state plans on appealing, the spokesperson said.
Julia Olson, an attorney for Our Children’s Trust, which represented the young people, called the decision a “huge win for Montana” and said similar decisions were likely to follow in different states.
(Reporting by Clark Mindock, Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Cynthia Osterman)