Young people’s constitutional right in Montana to a “clean and healthful environment” was protected in a landmark decision Monday.
A court ruled that the state’s environmental policies have failed to protect children from climate change. The ruling pushes against a new Montana state law – the Montana Environmental Policy Act – that prohibits considering the climate impact of future energy projects, including those involving fossil fuels and mining.
“By prohibiting analysis of [greenhouse gas] emissions and corresponding impacts to the climate… the [Montana Environmental Policy Act] Limitation violates Youth Plaintiffs’ right to a clean and healthful environment and is unconstitutional on its face,” wrote District Judge Kathy Seeley, who ruled in favour of the plaintiffs.
In trial hearings in June, scientists detailed how greenhouse gas emissions imperil the health and livelihoods of those growing up in Montana. The group of 16 young plaintiffs, aged between 5 and 22 years old, recounted the changes they were seeing in their communities due to climate change. In a poem read to the court, a 15-year-old boy with severe asthma described himself as “a prisoner in my own home” after covid-19 and wildfire smoke trapped him indoors.
The landmark decision is a rare victory in a country that has seen similar cases fail in recent years. Climate activists are optimistic that the win could bolster the already-growing number of youth-led climate movements, especially in states that enshrine such rights in their constitutions.
“As fires rage in the West, fuelled by fossil fuel pollution, today’s ruling in Montana is a game-changer that marks a turning point in this generation’s efforts to save the planet from the devastating effects of human-caused climate chaos,” wrote Julia Olson at the nonprofit law firm Our Children’s Trust, which represented the young activists. “More rulings like this will certainly come.”