I mentioned this Montana lawsuit in an earlier litigation update since it was going to be the first case going to trial nationally involving youth plaintiffs demanding action on climate change in a state court. Since then, we’ve been debating climate science a little here, so here’s an update. The trial happened and the court ruled in favor of Plaintiffs on one claim (2023.08.14-Held-v.-Montana-victory-order): a recent change in Montana’s environmental policy act (MEPA), which prohibited consideration of impacts on climate for proposed projects, “violates Plaintiffs’ right to a clean and healthful environment and is facially unconstitutional.” The state also failed to show that “the MEPA limitation serves a compelling government interest.”
The Montana state constitution includes this specific right, so the applicability of this outcome elsewhere is uncertain, but Plaintiffs’ attorneys (who are representing youth plaintiffs in other climate cases) are optimistic that it may provide some momentum.
The Washington Post had an interesting take on factual questions related to climate change:
In a pivot from its expected defense disputing the climate science behind the plaintiffs’ case, the state focused instead on arguing that the legislature should weigh in on the contested law, not the judiciary.
Michael Gerrard, the founder of Columbia’s Sabin Center, said the change in strategy came as a surprise: “Everyone expected them to put on a more vigorous defense,” he said. “And they may have concluded that the underlying science of climate change was so strong that they didn’t want to contest it.”
The state’s defense was unsuccessful. Judge Kathy Seeley determined that the state’s emissions could be fairly traced to the legal provision blocking Montana from reviewing the climate impacts of energy projects. She further wrote that the state’s emissions and climate change have caused harm to the environment and the youth plaintiffs.
If the WaPo article isn’t viewable, here’s another with more background on the case.
(It was interesting when I looked for a meme to include with this post – they seem to be dominated by not-very-clever climate change denialism.)