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Landmark youth climate trial begins in Montana

#Landmark #youth #climate #trial #begins #Montana

The first ever climate trial in the United States opened Monday in Montana, brought by young activists suing the state for violating their constitutional right to a “clean and healthful environment.”

Held v. Montana is being closely watched as it could bolster similar cases across the country, with previous suits dismissed before being heard.

The 16 plaintiffs, ranging in age from five to 22, said they have been harmed by the “dangerous impacts of fossil fuels and the climate crisis,” with children “uniquely vulnerable” to its worsening impacts.

“Young people like me understand what is at stake,” said Grace Gibson-Snyder, 19, in a statement provided by Our Children’s Trust, one of the groups representing the youths.

“We understand that we have a limited time to transition off of fossil fuels to ensure a safe and secure future for ourselves and our children.”

Named after lead plaintiff Rikki Held, the case is being overseen by Judge Kathy Seeley in the western state’s capital Helena, and will run until June 23.

At its heart is a provision within the fossil fuel friendly state’s constitution that guarantees: “The state and each person shall maintain and improve a clean and healthful environment in Montana for present and future generations.”

The plaintiffs are not seeking financial compensation, but rather a declaration that their rights are being violated as a first step towards policy reform.

– ‘Betrayal’ –

Specifically, they are challenging the constitutionality of a provision in the Montana Environmental Policy Act (MEPA), which prohibits government agencies from considering climate impacts when reviewing permitting applications from fossil fuel interests.

They are also suing to have equal rights as adults enforced under the Montana Constitution.

In his opening statement, advocate Roger Sullivan evoked the multiplying impacts of global warming on the state’s youth.

These included “heat, drought, wildfires, air pollution, violent storms, loss of wildlife, watching glaciers melt, the loss of familial and cultural foundations and traditions,” with medical and psychological impacts disproportionately impacting the young, he said.

Moreover, the state had pursued a ruinous energy policy, releasing 166 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually, he said — equivalent to the countries of Argentina, the Netherlands, or Pakistan, despite Montana’s population of just over a million.

The plaintiffs felt a sense of “betrayal,” said Sullivan, with some expressing reluctance to have their own children because they fear the world they would grow up in. 

Several have been directly impacted in their ability to fish and hunt, harming their families’ economic wellbeing as well as their tribal practices, in the case of an Indigenous plaintiff.

For its part, the state has repeatedly tried to have the case tossed out over procedural issues.

In opening remarks, Montana Assistant Attorney General Michael Russell said the court “will hear lots of emotion, lots of assumptions, accusations… and notably fear about what the future may hold, including sweeping and dramatic assertions of doom that awaits us all.”

What’s more, he said, the legislation under challenge could not have caused the plaintiffs’ alleged injuries.

“Montana’s emissions are simply too miniscule to make any difference. Climate change is a global issue that effectively relegates Montana’s role to that of a spectator,” he said.

It comes as dozens of US jurisdictions are suing fossil fuel companies over climate impacts as well as disinformation campaigns about climate science.

“When it comes to climate action, US courts have never been more relevant,” said Alice Hill, a former Barack Obama climate advisor and member of the Climate Crisis Advisory Group.

“Everyone from kids to local governments are suing, asserting harm from climate change, and cases range from claims that fossil fuel companies lied about climate change to averments that states have violated constitutional rights.”

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#Landmark #youth #climate #trial #begins #Montana

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