Court Rules That State’s Promotion of Oil and Gas Violated Residents’ Rights

By Published on August 14, 2023

Montana District Court Judge Kathy Seeley ruled on Monday in favor of 16 young plaintiffs who brought a lawsuit against the state claiming that their rights to a clean environment had been violated by allowing fossil fuel companies to operate without considering the effects emissions have on the environment.

The plaintiffs, who ranged from ages 5 to 22, argued that the government had harmed the environment by allowing global warming to escalate. Seeley ruled that the plaintiffs have an unalienable right to “a clean and healthful environment” as established by the Montana Constitution, stating that the Montana Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) had violated this right by allowing businesses to operate without considering their total environmental impact.

“Montana’s river and lake ecosystems are interconnected … [and] because of this interconnectivity … any prohibition on the consideration of either impacts within Montana or regional impacts of climate change, is not scientifically supported,” Seeley wrote.

All 16 plaintiffs brought forward similar complaints of mental and physical harm that they attributed to MEPA, including complaints that they suffered from unusual heat, wildfire smoke, flooding and difficulty sleeping. “Mica [a 15-year-old plaintiff in the case] gets frustrated when he is required to stay indoors during the summer because of wildfire smoke,” one plaintiff asserted.

Another plaintiff argued that Montana had directly impacted her work by creating climate disruption that decreased the state’s winter snow. Yet another defendant stated that “climate anxiety is like an elephant sitting on her chest … and makes it hard for her to breathe.”

While Seeley ruled that the psychological harms held no weight in the argument, she declared the MEPA rule unconstitutional because of its restrictions on what environmental impacts the state could consider.

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According to The Associated Press, Emily Flower, a spokeswoman for Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen, said: “This ruling is absurd, but not surprising from a judge who let the plaintiffs’ attorneys put on a weeklong taxpayer-funded publicity stunt that was supposed to be a trial. 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. Their same legal theory has been thrown out of federal court and courts in more than a dozen states. It should have been here as well, but they found an ideological judge who bent over backward to allow the case to move forward and earn herself a spot in their next documentary.”

Seeley stated that the ruling was completely grounded in constitutional law, and that MEPA requires Montana to both preserve and enhance the state’s environmental quality.

“Plaintiffs have a fundamental constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment, which includes climate as part of the environmental life-support system,” Seeley said.

The Montana case is the first of several environmental lawsuits currently filed on the behalf of young Americans across the nation, including a Hawaii case set to begin in June 2024.

 

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