Montana environmental group sues state for constitutional violation

Harris Marley

Global Courant

A group of young people in Montana suing the state government for allegedly failing to protect them from climate change will begin a two-week trial on Monday.

Montana has a constitutional obligation to protect residents from the effects of climate change. The 16 plaintiffs, whose ages range from 5 to 22, will try to convince District Judge Kathy Seeley that the state violated this requirement and put their health and livelihood at risk.

The state’s constitution says the government must “maintain and enhance a clean and healthy environment,” and experts say the case could set legal precedent in several other states with similar environmental protections included in their constitutions, including Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and New York.

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Environmentalists are clinging to the case as a potential watershed moment for legal challenges, as similar lawsuits have been dismissed in nearly every state, according to The Associated Press.

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Plaintiffs Mica, 14; Badge 15, Lander 18 and Taleah, 19, listen to arguments at a status hearing on May 12, 2023 in Helena, Montana. (Thom Bridge/independent recording via AP)

The prosecutors in the case allege Montana officials are failing to curb global warming while the state pursues oil, gas and coal development, court documents show.

The plaintiffs also allege that the state is not doing enough to fight the smoke from worsening wildfires, which they say are polluting the air, or to ease the drought that is causing rivers to dry up, which would otherwise affect agriculture, fishing, the preserve nature and recreation.

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Young plaintiffs challenging the constitutionality of a Montana policy that does not require state agencies to account for the effect of greenhouse gas emissions. (AP Photo/Matthew Brown)

The plaintiffs also allege that the state is not doing enough to fight smoke from worsening wildfires, which they say are polluting the air. (AP Photo/Matthew Brown)

The state claims that fossil fuel investments provide jobs, tax revenue and help meet the energy needs of residents.

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The state is also expected to claim that extreme climate conditions have existed for centuries and that Montana makes “minuscule” contributions to global greenhouse gas emissions, the AP reported.

The case comes as the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration said earlier this month that carbon dioxide levels in the air reached their highest levels in more than 4 million years this spring.

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The International Energy Agency, which provides authoritative analysis and policy recommendations, said greenhouse gas emissions also hit a record last year.

Judge Kathy Seeley has said she cannot tell the legislature how to remedy the violation, but she could rule in favor of the environmentalists. (Thom Bridge/independent recording via AP)

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Judge Kathy Seeley has said she could rule in favor of the environmentalists, but cannot tell the legislature how to remedy the violation.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Montana environmental group sues state for constitutional violation

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