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A group of young environmentalists in Montana won a landmark climate change ruling on August 14, 2023. In a historic first, District Court Judge Kathy Seeley sided with the youth activists that the state's government was not doing enough to protect them from climate change. Here is a rundown of all the essential details.
Who are the activists?
The Montana activists are a group of 16 youngsters aged five to 22. Rikki Held, a recent environmental science graduate, led the case against the state government. The 22-year-old believes today's youth will be subjected longer to climate change's negative impacts, like air and water pollution. Yet, they have no say in the choices made by officials.
"Young people and future generations don't have a say in a lot of decisions about climate, so that's why we need to go through the courts and have the courts protect our human rights," she states.
Co-plaintiff Grace Gibson-Snyder agrees. The 19-year-old has felt the impacts of the heating planet in her hometown of Missoula. The city is often shrouded in toxic smoke from nearby wildfires. Additionally, the water levels in the area's rivers have dropped noticeably over the years.
Why did the group sue Montana?
Held v. Montana alleged that the state violated the residents' constitutional right to a clean and healthy environment. The lawsuit specifically focused on two state laws. The first is a clause in Montana's policy that encourages the use of fossil fuels. The second is an amendment to the state's environmental policy that stops officials from evaluating how new fossil fuel projects add to climate change.
How did the court rule?
Judge Seeley's 100-page ruling concluded that the state officials' decision to ignore the climate impact when issuing permits for fossil fuel development was unconstitutional. It further noted that greenhouse gas emissions and climate change have caused harm to the environment and the plaintiffs.
What is next?
The Montana government plans to appeal the decision to the state's Supreme Court. If it agrees with Judge Seeley, Montana officials will have to consider climate change when deciding whether to approve or renew fossil fuel projects.
But experts believe the historic decision is a win even if the ruling is overturned. Currently, only five other states guarantee constitutional rights to a clean environment. Nine more are considering adding it via the "Green Amendment Bill" in 2023. The Montana ruling could encourage more state officials to do the same.
Resources: Washingtonpost.com, Phys.org, theguardian.com, NBCnews.com