Climate change in the courts – a win for Montana youth plaintiffs

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.)

13 thoughts on “Climate change in the courts – a win for Montana youth plaintiffs”

  1. Michael Gerrard, the founder of Columbia’s Sabin Center, said the change in strategy came as a surprise: “And they may have concluded that the underlying science of climate change was so strong that they didn’t want to contest it.”

    Hey, Michael, try looking at actual science sometime. Here is a link to a EPA filing by two of the world’s top climate scientists NO ON THE GOVERNMENT TAKE:
    And an article describing that filing:

    Key takeaways are that:
    1. we are being lied to by cherry picking the data
    2.CO2 is incapable of causing much more warming because its effect is saturated. (like putting on a 3rd coat of pain has little effect.)
    3. Climate models, the basis of all predictions of serious harm, are scientifically junk.
    4. Past CO2 levels were over 10 times that of today and the Earth did not burn up.
    5. there is no historical correlation of CO2 with temperature.
    6. CO2 is causing serious INCREAsE in food supply.

    There is more in the actual paper.

    • The “key take away” from this court case is that it doesn’t matter in Montana what the co2coalition or theepochtimes think. The “carbon doesn’t matter” argument hasn’t won a case in court that I know of. Here’s another loss in federal district court in Montana (Kootenai Black Ram Project), where the court said:

      “With all in agreement that climate change as a results of carbon emissions is an increasingly serious national and global problem, the USFS has the responsibility to give the public an accurate picture of what impacts a project may have, no matter how ‘infinitesimal’ they believe they may be.”

  2. The Montana state’s defense has been a standard ploy among the youth climate lawsuits filed in the 49 other states. Shorthand legal lingo: it’s “the political question” which claims that the courts are no experts on climate science, and the issue belongs in the executive and legislative branches of government. And sometimes (all the time?) we don’t get the government leaders we want or need–that’s what elections are for.

    The problem is what do you do when you’re a kid who is not even eligible to vote? Good luck waiting for the chance to vote to get the leaders you need! That is the reason youth are plaintiffs in these climate lawsuits: when the other branches of government fail or run afoul of the law or violate your rights, it is the duty of the judicial branch to intervene, declare the law, and advance justice.

    Kudos to Judge Seeley for not falling for the standard dodge of responsibility in “the political question.” Left unsaid in the media is the real reason the state’s attorneys failed to wage a vigorous defense: they are ultimately banking on a reversal of the ruling from a fossil fuel friendly Supreme Court.

    • RE:” they are ultimately banking on a reversal of the ruling from a fossil fuel friendly Supreme Court.”
      Let me correct that to:
      “reversal from a court that is actually capable of understanding that the entire climate crisis is actually just al Gore’s climate scam.
      See my earlier post and


    • It seems unlikely this interpretation of a state constitution would ever make it to the U. S. Supreme Court. The Montana Supreme Court is very unlike the U. S. Supreme Court (they’re elected, and the last election went against the more conservative candidate even while the rest of the state went red). If the State loses there, the next battle would be to downplay the effects of climate change on individual projects, and then fight over whether that complies with MEPA. Of course, what they may really be telegraphing is that the Republican supermajority legislature will take back this “political question” and come up with another way for the state government to avoid dealing with climate change. And on to the next lawsuit. I’m afraid this is outcome may be mostly symbolic.

  3. Absolutely insane, but that’s what you get when you codify something as vague as a “right to a clean environment” in your state constitution. That’s basically just ceding environmental policy to the courts and giving them carte blanch authority to legislate on environmental issues. So not a surprising result in Montana, but I rather doubt we’ll see similar results in states that haven’t ceded environmental policy making authority to the judiciary. Unless of course judges in other states just start inventing similar rights in their state constitutions like they have in other areas like abortion.

  4. I just wanted to emphasize the “findings of fact” from this case about the causes of climate change (including the use of models), and encourage reading paragraphs 67-99 in this opinion. Starting with, “There is overwhelming consensus that Earth is warming as a direct result of human GHG emissions, primarily from the burning of fossil fuels.” Apparently the state did not seriously contest any of this, and I hope this moves us closer to putting the “skeptics” out to pasture.

  5. Jeez John, as a certified “skeptic” I am a little concerned about being “put out to pasture,” whatever that might mean to you. But please be reminded that skepticism is a fundamental characteristic of scientific research, while an “overwhelming consensus” — no matter how derived — is a strictly political term. Flat earth stuff.

    So now we have a team of lawyers arguing politics in the name of science? And they are “successful” because the “state did not seriously challenge” these claims? My thought is that this event had zero to do with quelling any legitimate skepticism over these assertions. Plus, using children for political purposes always makes me a little irritated. It just seems unethical and we should hear more from (and about) the adults manipulating them.

    • It’s just sad what climate alarmists have done to children. I’ve read lots of articles talking about how one of the reasons why youth depression is at all time highs is that adults have convinced them they have no future because of climate change. Many children in western countries literally believe that climate change will cause human beings to go extinct within their lifetimes, even though there is absolutely no scenario where that happens and no scientist actually claims that. The reality is that no matter what happens they will inherit the greatest prosperity and the highest quality of life the human race has ever known. The only way climate change will make life worse for them is if governments enforce artificial scarcity and impose draconian restrictions on freedom in the name of combating climate change.


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