Montana Judge rules in favor of having a livable future

Montana Judge Kathy Seely invalidated as unconstitutional the so-called “limitation” to the Montana Environmental Policy Act (MEPA), which was amended by the legislature this year, in House Bill 971 as well as Senate Bill 557, which prohited the state from considering greenhouse gas emissions and climate impacts when deciding whether to approve permits for energy and mining projects. 

In doing so, she upheld the claim of 16 youth plaintiffs who sued the state demanding that the state of Montana protect their rights to a clean and healthy environment and the state’s natural resources from unreasonable depletion. In Held V. Montana, the plaintiffs demanded that the state Constitution be respected, in asserting that Montanans have a right to a clean and healthful environment and that each Montanan “shall maintain and improve a clean and healthful environment in Montana for present and future generations.”

“By prohibiting consideration of climate change, (green house gas) emissions, and how additional GHG emissions will contribute to climate change or be consistent with the Montana Constitution, the MEPA Limitation violates Plaintiffs’ right to a clean and healthful environment and is facially unconstitutional,” Seeley wrote in her order.

According to Blair Miller, who published Judge sides with youth in Montana climate change trial, finds two laws unconstitutional, in the Nevada Current on August 14, 2023, the Held vs. Montana case was the first case challenging state and national climate and energy policies to make it to trial in the U.S., and is now the first in which the plaintiffs, 16 Montana youth now ages 5 to 22, were victorious.

This ruling was welcomed by the climate community and is expected to be a harbinger of things to come. Of course, not every state constitution provides a right to a healthy environment but the eggregiously pro-fossil fuel legislation that was passed by the Republican supermajority-held legislature was brashly unconstitutional in Montana. So, at the moment, there is at least one state that believes that children deserve a healthful future that cannot be simply denied because an industry wants to make more money. 

For a blast of good climate news, see the Nevada Current’s: Judge sides with youth in Montana climate change trial, finds two laws unconstitutional, by Blair Miller published August 14, 2023.