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Group of 16 young people sue state for allegedly violating its own constitution: 'The state may have to change its policies'

Legal experts say that this trial is one of the first of its kind.

Young Montanans are suing their state government

Photo Credit: iStock

A group of 16 young Montanans looking to protect their home's natural beauty have joined with an environmental legal organization to sue the state for failing to provide a "clean and healthful environment," as outlined in the state constitution

The group filed the original complaint in 2020, claiming that by supporting the use of dirty energy, like coal, oil, and gas, the state is violating its own constitution. These forms of unrenewable energy are contributing to the overheating of our planet, which is worsening extreme weather events like wildfires, torrential rains, and severe droughts, putting our communities in jeopardy. 

Legal experts say that this trial — which began on June 12 in the state capital and just reached its midway point — is one of the first constitutional climate cases. 

"This is the first that will get into the merits of climate change and what needs to be done, and how the state may have to change its policies," Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School, told the New York Times. 

The age of the group of plaintiffs covers a 16-year span. The oldest, concerned about her family's 7,000-acre ranch, where extreme weather has made it difficult to supply water to their land, was 18 years old when they filed the case. The youngest plaintiff was just two. The boy suffers respiratory issues, and his health is further threatened by recent wildfires and smoke. 

"A lot of this is just rooted in how many Montanans, including us, live life on an everyday basis, and how ingrained the wildlife and the land and nature is in who we are," said 18-year-old plaintiff Lander Busse, who grew up hunting and fishing just outside Glacier National Park.

The young Montanans are seeking for the state or court to acknowledge that dirty energy is causing climate change. The landmark case could not only provide a foundation for other climate cases across the country but could also ensure that climate change is at the forefront when Montana approves future industrial projects or climate laws. 

In response to the case, the state hasn't said much. Despite the insurmountable evidence, the state argued that dirty energy sources are not driving climate change and denied that Montana is experiencing severe weather linked to rising temperatures. 

It should be noted that Montana is currently the fifth-largest coal provider and the 12th-largest oil-producing state in the country. 

No matter the outcome of the impending trial, the case is likely to be appealed to the state Supreme Court, according to the Seattle Times. 

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