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Kids Sue Montana On Climate Crisis

They just wrapped up their court appearance and now await an outcome.

The final day of the lawsuit against Montana drew to a close, marking the conclusion of the first-ever youth-led climate trial in the United States, known as Held v. Montana. Initially, the lawsuit revolved around a specific provision in Montana's Environmental Policy Act that prohibited the state's environmental agency from assessing the climate impacts of fossil fuel extraction within its borders. However, the case held far-reaching significance.

Three years prior, the young plaintiffs had filed their complaint against Montana's executive branch, asserting that the state's prioritization of fossil fuel permits violated their constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment. Spanning ages 5 to 22, they argued that even small-scale actions by state governments were crucial in addressing the global challenge of climate change. Conversely, the state argued that it should not be held accountable for a problem it could not single-handedly solve.

Despite the state's attempts to dismiss the case, the plaintiffs successfully brought it to court, where they spent seven arduous days before Judge Kathy Seeley. The trial witnessed a clash of contrasting worldviews as the plaintiffs' attorneys crafted their arguments through the narratives and testimonies of 21 witnesses. These witnesses included climate scientists, energy analysts, public health experts, and the young plaintiffs themselves, who shared stories of loss and grief. Each expert highlighted in their unique way how climate change impacted Montana's ecosystems and communities, emphasizing the importance of deliberate action in mitigating these effects. They frequently referenced a quote from a United Nations report that underscored the significance of every ton of CO2 in addressing the issue on both global and local scales.

Each young plaintiff concluded their testimony with an expression of hope, believing that winning the lawsuit would signify that their actions and advocacy could bring about positive change in the world. Kian Tanner, an 18-year-old plaintiff, shared a sense of relief and joy, firmly believing in the impact of their collective efforts.

During cross-examination, the defense sought to demonstrate that the magnitude of the climate change problem required larger-scale solutions beyond what Montana could provide. They questioned whether Montana's complete cessation of CO2 emissions or even significant reductions would suffice to prevent harm to the plaintiffs from climate change. However, the plaintiffs' expert witnesses countered these arguments by emphasizing the power of individual actions and the potential for inspiring broader movements.

While the defense focused on the procedural aspects of the lawsuit, particularly the statutory limitations on the Department of Environmental Quality's consideration of climate impacts, the plaintiffs aimed to establish a constitutional standard for guiding state energy permitting and challenged the restrictions imposed on the department. The lead attorney for the plaintiffs argued that a stable climate system was crucial for safeguarding the right to a clean and healthful environment, urging the court to intervene boldly and establish a target of 350 parts per million of atmospheric CO2.

Now that the trial has concluded, both parties will submit their proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law to assist Judge Seeley in reaching her decision. As the plaintiffs resume their lives, they remain committed to their cause, determined to make a difference in the trajectory of climate change in the state they hold dear. One plaintiff engages with a Montana environmental nonprofit, another prepares for Peace Corps service in Kenya, and yet another channels their concerns through running and training for a half-marathon. Regardless of the trial's outcome, their resolve to combat climate change persists.


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