Montana Faces Youth Lawsuit Over Its Energy Policy

(CN) — A group of Montana youths are suing the state of Montana over its energy policy, which the youths say relies on too heavily on fossil-fuel development and causes climate change.

The lawsuit was filed Friday in Montana’s Lewis and Clark County District Court. The complaint claims the state’s energy policy is infringing on the youths’ constitutional right to a clean and healthy environment.

Haze surrounds Hyalite reservoir in Montana. (Chris Marshall / CNS)

Defendants are the State of Montana, Gov. Steve Bullock, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, the Montana Department of Transportation and the Montana Public Service Commission.

The youth plaintiffs range in age from two to 18 and are from Missoula, Bozeman, Helena, Kalispell, Livingston, Bigfork, Polson, Broadus and the Flathead Indian Reservation.

The plaintiffs are asking the court to declare the state energy policy unconstitutional and to order the state to develop and implement a plan to protect the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights to a clean environment.

Nate Bellinger, co-counsel for the plaintiffs and senior staff attorney with Our Children’s Trust, said the youth are looking for a judicial remedy since they cannot vote.

“Throughout our nation’s history, and this state’s history, courts have been called upon to remedy systemic injustices, especially when those injustices are impacting children,” Bellinger said. “Here, 16 courageous youth from across Montana … are looking to the judiciary to protect their constitutional rights from conduct by the State of Montana that promotes fossil fuels, contributes to the climate crisis, and is causing these youth plaintiffs grave harm.”

Rikki Held, 18, is the only named plaintiff in the case. Held, from Broadus, said, “As a fifth generation Montanan under the Big Sky, I wish to preserve the health and resources of our state. Our government knows the devastating effects of fossil fuels and must take action to protect the land that my family and fellow Montanans rely upon and hope to conserve for future generations.”

The youth plaintiffs are also challenging the constitutionality of a provision in the Montana Environmental Policy Act that prohibits state regulatory agencies from considering the impacts of climate change when making permit decisions over fossil fuel development.

Shiloh Hernandez, co-counsel for the youth plaintiffs and staff attorney with Western Environmental Law Center, said the plaintiffs hope to require Montana to inventory greenhouse gas emissions and develop a plan for reducing emissions.

“This case has the potential to set important precedent for our nation and the planet,” Hernandez said.

The plaintiffs are represented by Bellinger, Hernandez and Roger Sullivan and Dustin Leftridge with McGarvey/Heberling/Sullivan Law.

The defendants did not immediately reply to a request for comment Friday evening.

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