Montana Republicans Urge State Supreme Court to Dismiss Young Climate Activists’ Lawsuit
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Montana Republicans Urge State Supreme Court to Dismiss Young Climate Activists’ Lawsuit

Montana Republican Party leaders will appeal Wednesday to the state Supreme Court to overturn a landmark climate ruling that said state regulators must consider climate change impacts when approving fossil fuel projects.

The lawsuit was filed in 2020 by 16 people aged 2 to 16, whose lawyers argued that their state and federal constitutional provisions, which require leaders to “maintain and improve” a clean environment, were not being respected.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys argued that their clients suffered harm because the state approved fossil fuel projects without considering the environmental impacts, resulting in increased greenhouse gas emissions and environmental degradation in Montana.

In August 2023, U.S. District Judge Kathy Seeley ruled in favor of the young activists, pointing to a 1972 constitutional amendment that requires the state to protect the environment. That amendment was used to support the plaintiffs’ argument that state regulators must consider a project’s potential impact on climate change when conducting an environmental impact assessment. Her ruling has since been cited in numerous lawsuits challenging permits for an oil refinery, a gas plant, a pipeline and a coal mine.

But in a letter to Seeley, the state argued that the youths had failed to demonstrate legal capacity because no provision of Montana law could have resulted from their alleged injuries since the entire world’s energy system relies on fossil fuels.

Gov. Greg Gianforte (R-MT) signed a law last year that will not require environmental impact assessments to consider climate impacts unless the federal government designates carbon dioxide as a regulated pollutant.

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“The District Court gave the plaintiffs a show trial last June, but now it’s time for the state Supreme Court to do its job and overturn the flawed decision that followed,” said Chase Scheuer, a spokesman for state Attorney General Austin Knudsen. Gianforte also pushed to overturn the verdict.

A similar lawsuit was filed against Hawaii, whose representatives also sided with climate activists demanding the decarbonization of its transportation system by 2045.