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Montana news about the environment, natural resources, wildlife, climate change and more.

Judge rules in favor of youth plaintiffs in landmark climate trial

A district court judge in Montana handed down a landmark decision Monday, ruling that the state violated its own Constitution by failing to consider fossil fuels’ contribution to climate change.

Sixteen young people sued the state over its promotion of fossil fuel-based energy, saying it violates their right to a clean and healthful environment under the Montana Constitution.

Their case was the first of several youth-led lawsuits against states for failing to address climate change to go to trial.

The Montana Constitution says "The state and each person shall maintain and improve a clean and healthful environment in Montana for present and future generations." How did that get included, and what does it mean for Montana? Learn more now on The Big Why

In a ruling Monday, Lewis and Clark District Court Judge Kathy Seeley sided with the plaintiffs and struck down portions of state law that forbid the state from considering the impacts of greenhouse gasses and climate change in environmental policy and assessments.

Seeley wrote the state failed to prove “any compelling governmental interest” to uphold the laws, and that they’re contributing to the depletion and degradation of Montana’s environment.

Our Children’s Trust, which represents the young plaintiffs in the case, said in a statement the ruling “marks a turning point” in efforts to mitigate climate change. Kian Tanner, an 18-year-old plaintiff from Bigfork, said he hopes the ruling will encourage others to make their voices heard.

“It’s truly incredible. This is just the first step towards climate action and creating a stable climate for future generations to live in,” Tanner said.

A spokesperson for Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen called the ruling absurd, saying Montanans can’t be blamed for changing the climate. The state will appeal the decision to the Montana Supreme Court.

Read the decision here.

Shaylee covers state government and politics for Montana Public Radio. Please share tips, questions and concerns at 406-539-1677 or  
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