Montana youth win 'monumental' climate decision

Signs outside Montana courthouse for Climate lawsuit
(Image credit: William Campbell / Getty Images)

A state judge in Montana's Lewis and Clark County on Monday ruled in favor of a group of teens and young adults who had alleged the state's fossil fuel–based energy system and provisions in its Environmental Policy Act violated their constitutional rights by contributing to the climate change they will experience as they grow older.

Over the course of her more than 100-page ruling, District Judge Kathy Seeley determined that not only were emissions from the state's various fossil fuels a direct contributor to climate change, but that laws prohibiting the state from considering those emissions when evaluating new energy projects violated the group's "fundamental constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment." Monday's ruling was a "huge win for Montana, for youth, for democracy and for our climate" said Julia Olson, who heads the Our Children's Trust environmental group that brought the suit on behalf of the 16 plaintiffs, who ranged in age from 5 to 22.

"I know that climate change is a global issue, but Montana has to take responsibility for our part in that," lead plaintiff Rikki Held said during the trial, highlighting what had become one of the major points of contention during the case: whether Montana's discrete emissions were significant enough to affect worldwide climate change. Attorneys for the state had argued that the global nature of climate change had essentially relegated Montana's role to "that of a spectator." In her ruling, Seeley disagreed, concluding that not only had the state's greenhouse gas emissions been directly linked to the limiting provisions in Montana's Environmental Policy Act, but that those emissions were "proven to be a substantial factor" in the effects of climate change felt locally by the plaintiffs.

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Phil Gregory, an attorney who represented the youth plaintiffs, called Monday's ruling a "monumental decision" and said he hoped it would help energize future youth lawsuits against the contributing factors of climate change.

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Rafi Schwartz

Rafi Schwartz is a Politics Writer with The Week, where he focuses on elections, Congress, and the White House. He was previously a contributing writer with Mic, a senior writer with Splinter News, and the managing editor of Heeb Magazine. His work has appeared in Rolling Stone, GOOD, The Forward, and elsewhere.

Rafi currently lives in the Twin Cities, where he does not bike, run, or take part in any team sports. He does, however, have a variety of interests, hobbies, and passions.