Judge Kathy Seeley has ruled that a Montana law that prohibits local authorities from considering the effects of greenhouse gases on climate change when granting permits to fossil fuel companies is unconstitutional. In her more than 100-page ruling, Seeley asserted that the plaintiffs, a group of 16 people between the ages of five and 22, have a fundamental right to a clean and healthy environment, including climate.
Seeley stressed that the clause in the law that prohibits the analysis of greenhouse gas emissions and their impact on the climate is contrary to the constitution. The plaintiffs were not seeking financial compensation but rather consideration of the climate crisis and its effect on their lives and family finances by granting permits to the fossil fuel industries.
At the trial, held in June in Helena, Montana, the plaintiffs shared personal testimony about how the climate crisis has affected their well-being and that of their families. One of the plaintiffs, Rikki Held, explained how the wildfires, extreme temperatures, and drought have harmed her livelihood and quality of life on her family’s ranch. Claire Vlases, another plaintiff, described the reality of the constant humor over the summer, calling it a real-life but dystopian experience.
This ruling could have significant implications for future cases, as there have been numerous similar lawsuits across the country. The plaintiffs relied on an article of the local constitution that establishes the commitment to maintain and improve a clean and healthy environment for current and future generations.
Julia Olson, director of the Our Children’s Trust, which represented the plaintiffs, called the ruling uniquely a momentous victory for Montana, youth, and democracy, as well as a milestone in the fight against climate change. Despite the national attention the case has received, Montana Deputy Attorney General Michael Russell stressed the difficulty of quantifying the degree to which local laws are responsible for the consequences of climate change.