Montana Judge Rules For Plaintiffs In Landmark Climate Case

This win will set off similar suits in other fossil fuel states, and it couldn’t happen at a better time. Via Mother Jones:

A healthy climate is included in your constitutional rights, at least if you live in Montana. On Monday, District Court Judge Kathy Seeley sided with the 16 young plaintiffs who sued Montana three years ago, arguing that its pro–fossil fuels legislation violated their right to a safe environment. Seeley ruled in the case, Held v. Montana, that “plaintiffs have a fundamental constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment, which includes climate as part of the environmental life support system.” She continued that “Montana’s emissions and climate change have been proven to be a substantial factor in causing climate impacts to Montana’s environment and harm and injury.” The case was only the third climate-related lawsuit ever to go to trial, and the first to focus on a state’s constitution.

And with Seeley’s ruling, Held v. Montana became the first ever lawsuit to link climate change to the constitutional right to a healthy environment. The magnitude of this ruling cannot be overstated. “I think this is the strongest decision on climate change ever issued by any court,” Michael Gerrard, the founder and faculty director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University, told me this morning.

The plaintiffs, all of whom were minors at the time the suit was filed, certainly agree. Kian, one of the young people to sue, wrote in a statement: “This ruling, this case; it is truly historic. We are heard! Frankly the elation and joy in my heart is overwhelming in the best way. We set the precedent not only for the United States, but for the world.” Another plaintiff, Eva, summed it up with, “I’m so speechless right now…I cannot believe the ruling. I’m just so relieved.”

Seeley’s ruling does not bar the use of fossil fuels in the state, but it does limit legislation that has made Montana a fossil fuel haven. Gerrard explains: “The court found that renewables (wind, solar, hydro) can economically substitute for fossil fuels…and that the state law barring consideration of climate in impact assessment is unconstitutional.” Seeley also charged the legislature with protecting the climate, although it remains to be seen how the Republican supermajority will tackle the task.

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