There is no denying that the Montana Legislature, the governor, and State government entities such as the Public Service Commission are hostile to the reality of the climate crisis. That’s why, in 2020, 16 young people from across Montana filed suit against the State for failing to protect them from climate catastrophe. They are rightfully arguing that the State has laws and policies in place that favor fossil fuel extraction at the expense of their future.
The lawsuit, Held v. State of Montana, challenges the State’s energy policy that encourages the use of fossil fuels, thus contributing to the climate crisis. It also challenges the constitutionality of the exemption in the Montana Environmental Policy Act that says the State does not have to consider the impacts of projects if those impacts occur outside of Montana’s borders or “are regional, national or global in nature.” When this exemption was passed in 2011, the Legislature made clear that it was intended to prohibit the State from considering climate change when it analyzed the environmental impacts of projects.
The harm to Montana is widespread and significant, yet the State continues to ignore the crisis when it issues permits for large fossil fuel projects such as coal mines, coal-burning power plants such as Colstrip, oil and gas development, and more. This raises the question of whether the State is complying with Montanans’ constitutional rights, such as the right to a clean and healthful environment, if it fails to consider the most serious threat facing humanity today, the impacts of pollution that continue to deepen the climate crisis.
Recently, the youth plaintiffs filed their expert reports in the case, which is set for trial in February 2023. The expert reports are well worth a read and should soon be available online. For example, Drs. Steve Running and Kathy Whitlock do an outstanding job of describing the impacts of climate change on Montana’s environment. MEIC also filed an affidavit discussing the political context in which climate decisions have been made over the decades. The youth plaintiffs are represented by Our Children’s Trust, Roger Sullivan, and the Western Environmental Law Center. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
This article was published in the June 2022 issue of Down To Earth.