Montana Environmental Information Center

Clean and healthful. It's your right, our mission.

Montana’s Constitution

MEIC is dedicated to protection of Montana’s environment. One of the critical ways MEIC is able to do so is by assuring that the State complies with key provisions of Montana’s Constitution. Written in 1972 and ratified by the voters that same year, the Montana Constitution endows Montanans with rights that make others around the country envious. The preamble to the constitution sets the stage:

“We the people of Montana grateful to God for the quiet beauty of our state, the grandeur of our mountains, the vastness of our rolling plains, and desiring to improve the quality of life, equality of opportunity and to secure the blessings of liberty for this and future generations do ordain and establish this constitution.”

Montana’s Constitution – A Groundbreaking Document for a Clean and Healthful Environment

Arguably the most important provision in Montana’s constitution is Article II, section 3: “All persons are born free and have certain inalienable rights. They include the right to a clean and healthful environment . . . “

The State largely ignored this environmental provision of Montana’s Constitution until MEIC filed suit over a gold mine on the Blackfoot River. In ruling in MEIC’s favor, the Montana Supreme Court interpreted this constitutional provision for the first time as a fundamental right:

“…the delegates’ intention was to provide language and protections which are both anticipatory and preventative. The delegates did not intend to merely prohibit the degree of environmental degradation which can be conclusively linked to ill health or physical endangerment. Our constitution does not require that dead fish float on the surface of the state’s rivers and streams before its farsighted environmental protections can be invoked.”

Right to Participate

The Montana Constitution provides even more than just the fundamental right to a clean and healthful environment. It also guarantees the right to participate in governmental decisions and to review documents in the possession of local and state governments, a critical aspect of MEIC’s work.

Montana's Constitution requires that all disturbed lands be reclaimed. Aerial view of Rosebud Coal mine.(c) Kestrel Aerial Services, Inc. (c)www.kestrelaerial.com

Montana’s Constitution requires that all disturbed lands be reclaimed. Aerial view of Rosebud Coal mine.(c) Kestrel Aerial Services, Inc. (c)www.kestrelaerial.com

Reclamation of Lands

The constitution recognizes the damage that natural resource development can have on the environment. Article IX, section II requires that “all lands disturbed by the taking of natural resources shall be reclaimed.” Despite repeated attempts by the legislature to weaken this provision, MEIC has continued to successfully fight to guarantee its meaning.

MEIC & the Constitution

The Montana Supreme Court has found these provisions to be more than just words on paper. They are guiding principles that Montanans and their government must live by. MEIC has a long history of monitoring the application of these provisions and working to assure that the constitution is fairly implemented so that future generations can enjoy Montana’s quiet beauty and grandeur.