Breaking: Huge environmental win in historic youth-brought Montana climate case

Helena, MT – A  judge ruled in favor of Montana youth climate plaintiffs today, declaring the state is violating its own constitution by not protecting the right to a clean environment. Held v. Montana was the first-ever youth climate case to go to trial in the U.S. and now is the first victory, setting a precedent for further lawsuits.

“The Held case is a historic victory in the fight to ensure a livable future for all generations,” said Sierra Club’s Executive Director Ben Jealous. “An entire generation is being raised in a climate crisis and are inspiring us to care more and do better. We must act with greater urgency to protect those already threatened by the climate crisis to leave a better world for those that come after us.”

Montana’s Republican administration put up a meager defense during the trial, where expert witnesses explained the dire impacts of the climate crisis on a state’s environment and people. This year’s legislature passed pro-industry bills to fast-track fossil fuel and mining projects without any climate analysis, which violates Montana’s constitutionally protected right to a clean and healthful environment. According to the judge’s ruling, provisions from SB 557 and the entirety of HB 971 are unconstitutional.

“After watching the state legislature approve so many bills favoring fossil fuel development earlier this year, it’s very satisfying to see a ruling in this case that upholds Montana’s constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment and is based on actual climate science,” said Caryn Miske, Montana Sierra Club Chapter Director. “We hope everyone is inspired by this youth-led victory and uses it as motivation to advocate for further climate action across the state. The ruling is a major step forward in protecting Montana communities, waters, wildlife, and lands.”

This fall, Montana’s largest utility NorthWestern Energy is moving forward with energy plans making it the only remaining utility in the country trying to invest in coal despite vast renewable energy potential and federal incentives for the transition away from fossil fuels.

The state is expected to appeal the Held decision. More climate trials sponsored by Our Children’s Trust are expected in Utah, Virginia, Hawaii and Alaska.

Source: “Montana Youth Trial Win a Historic Climate Moment,” Aug. 14, 2023 The Sierra Club press release.