Read the text below.
Young environmental activists scored what experts described as a ground-breaking legal victory when a Montana judge said state agencies were violating their constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment by allowing fossil fuel development.
The ruling in this first-of-its-kind trial in the U.S. adds to a small number of legal decisions around the world that have established a government duty to protect citizens from climate change. If it stands, the ruling could set an important legal precedent, though experts said the immediate impacts are limited and state officials pledged to seek to overturn the decision on appeal.
District Court Judge Kathy Seeley found the policy the state uses in evaluating requests for fossil fuel permits — which does not allow agencies to look at greenhouse gas emissions — is unconstitutional. It marks the first time a U.S. court has ruled against a government for violating a constitutional right based on climate change, said Harvard Law School Professor Richard Lazarus.
The judge rejected the state’s argument that Montana’s emissions are insignificant, saying they were “a substantial factor” in climate change. Montana is a major producer of coal burned for electricity and has large oil and gas reserves. “Every additional ton of GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions exacerbates plaintiffs’ injuries and risks locking in irreversible climate injuries,” Seeley wrote.
“The ruling really provides nothing beyond emotional support for the many cases seeking to establish a public trust right, human right or a federal constitutional right” to a healthy environment, said James Huffman, dean emeritus at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland.
Claire Vlases was 17 years old when she became a plaintiff in the case. Now 20 and working as a ski instructor, she said climate change hangs over every aspect of her life. “I think a lot of young people feel really helpless, especially when it comes to the future,” Vlases said, adding that she expects Montana lawmakers to respect the state’s constitution and abide by the court’s decision. “Hopefully this is one for history,” she said.
This article was provided by The Associated Press.