A Montana state court sided with 16 youth activists, who alleged the state violated their constitutional right to a “clean and healthful environment.” Aged between five and 22, the plaintiffs said Montana’s fossil fuel policies contributed to climate change.
“This is a huge win for Montana, for youth, for democracy and for our climate,” Julia Olson, the executive director of Our Children’s Trust, which brought about the case, said, according to The Washington Post. “More rulings like this will certainly come.”
The state’s approval process for fossil fuel permits were found to be unconstitutional, as it doesn’t take into account the effects of greenhouse gas emissions.
“Montana’s emissions and climate change have been proven to be a substantial factor in causing climate impacts to Montana’s environment,” District Court Judge Kathy Seeley wrote on Monday, according to the BBC. “Plaintiffs have proven that as children and youth, they are disproportionately harmed by fossil fuel pollution and climate impacts.”
The lawsuit is the first of its kind to go to trial. Similar cases will soon be heard in other states such as Hawaii, Utah and Alaska.
The attorney for the plaintiffs says this decision could lead to youths to take similar steps in seeking climate justice.
“There are political decisions being made without regard to the best scientific evidence and the effects they will have on our youngest generations,” Phil Gregory said, according to The Washington Post. “This is a monumental decision.”
The state attorney general plans to appeal the ruling.
“Montanans can’t be blamed for changing the climate – even the plaintiffs’ expert witnesses agreed that our state has no impact on the global climate,” Emily Flower, a spokesperson for Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen, said.
If the judge’s decision is upheld, Montana will have to redraft its environmental review policies to take climate change into consideration for future power projects.
Montana is accountable for 30% of the country’s recoverable coal reserves and is the fourth largest producer of coal, according to the BBC. It also brings in millions of dollars in revenue for the state and pays a large pocket of the population.
During the trial, the state argued that the production of carbon dioxide plays a minimal role in the acceleration of climate change as other states and countries contribute to fossil fuel emissions.