Aug 14, 2023, 4:05pm EDT
net zeroNorth America

The impact of Montana’s youth-led climate trial victory

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The News

A Montana judge on Monday ruled that youth in the state have a constitutional right to a healthy environment, marking a historic first in the climate change battle on the political stage.

District Court Judge Kathy Seeley found that the state’s emissions were a “substantial factor” in affecting the climate, and that current laws limiting regulators from considering climate effects are now unconstitutional. The lawsuit had been filed by several climate activists between the ages of 5 and 22.

We’ve curated reporting and analysis on the precedent the victory could set in the courtroom fight for climate change.

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  • The Montana case is far stronger than federal lawsuits targeting greenhouse emissions because the state’s constitution specifically contains a clause compelling it to “maintain and improve a clean and healthful environment in Montana for present and future generations,” notes Slate legal writer Mark Joseph Stern.
  • Indigenous people of Montana live in “post-apocalyptic communities,” one of the plaintiffs, Sariel Sandoval, testified this summer. After surviving genocide and assimilation, she said that Indigenous people can survive climate change but “it doesn’t make it right,” arguing before the court that she has a constitutional right to preserve her heritage. She testified that her tribes’ creation stories can only be told when there’s snow on the ground on their land, something that is becoming less frequent because of climate change. “The time that we can share those stories and explain to our youth who we are and our place in the world is becoming shorter,” she said. – The Flathead Beacon
  • Immediate changes are not expected following the win, because the ruling allows for the Republican-controlled state legislature to bring the new policy into compliance. GOP lawmakers have already described the ruling as “absurd” and called the lawsuit a “publicity stunt.” – Associated Press