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Montana judge sides with youth activists in landmark climate change case

A Montana judge has sided with youth climate activists in a landmark case that argued their constitutional rights were violated by state agencies' disregard for the environment.

A Montana judge has sided with youth activists who argued that state agencies’ use of fossil fuels and its impact on the environment violated their constitutional rights. 

District Court Judge Kathy Seeley found the state’s policy used to evaluate requests for fossil fuel permits is unconstitutional because it does not force agencies to evaluate the effects of greenhouse gas emissions

Judge Seeley wrote that "Montana's emissions and climate change have been proven to be a substantial factor in causing climate impacts to Montana's environment and harm and injury" to the youth.

The ruling in the first-of-its-kind trial in the U.S. establishing a government duty to protect citizens from climate change. 

It's still up to the state legislature to determine how to bring the policy into compliance – a steep hurdle for a fossil fuel-friendly state where Republicans dominate.

Julia Olson, an attorney representing the youth and executive director of Our Children's Trust, called the ruling a "huge win for Montana, for youth, for democracy, and for our climate." 

"As fires rage in the West, fueled 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," Olson said. 


Emily Flower, a spokesperson for Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen, called the ruling "absurd," and said the office planned to appeal.

She said the ruling was "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."

Attorneys for the 16 plaintiffs – none of whom were over the age of 22 – presented evidence during the two-week trial in June that increasing carbon dioxide emissions are driving hotter temperatures, as well as more drought, and wildfires. Those changes are harming the young people's physical and mental health, according to experts brought in by the plaintiffs. 

The state argued that even if Montana completely stopped producing C02, it would have no effect on a global scale because states and countries around the world contribute to the amount of C02 in the atmosphere.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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