Home » Montana Republicans appeal to state supreme court to overturn landmark climate ruling

Montana Republicans appeal to state supreme court to overturn landmark climate ruling

by John Jefferson
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Republican officials in Montana urged the state supreme court on Wednesday to overturn a landmark 2023 climate ruling, which sided with a group of young plaintiffs who argued the state was violating their constitutional rights by allowing fossil fuel projects to move forward without considering climate impacts.

“This is a complex issue,” Dale Schowengerdt, representing Governor Greg Gianfort and a trio of state agencies, told the panel.  “It is, for better or worse, a political question.”

The officials, along with supporters including natural resource companies, the state Chamber of Commerce, and Montana’s largest power utility, are seeking to overturn a state court decision from last year.

In a ruling last August, a judge found that a provision in the Montana Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) preventing state regulators from considering emissions and other climate impacts was infringing the state constitutional right to a “clean and healthful environment.”

The decision was hailed as a major victory in climate legal activism, and was cited in lawsuits in Montana seeking to challenge permits for new fossil fuel projects, though these challenges haven’t been served on state officials, as appeals of the decision were pending, a state environmental official told The Associated Press.

The Montana Supreme Court is considering a challenge to a 2023 ruling that found the state had violated its constitutional environmental protections by failing to consider the climate crisis in proposed energy projects.
The Montana Supreme Court is considering a challenge to a 2023 ruling that found the state had violated its constitutional environmental protections by failing to consider the climate crisis in proposed energy projects. (AP)

Wednesday’s hearing reportedly had hundreds of onlookers, among them plaintiff Grace Gibson-Snyder, 20.

She told the AP that Montana officials are seeking an “evasion of responsibility” on the climate.

“It’s an evasion of your constitutional obligation to protect our rights and our state,” she said. “Why would you not try?”

A ruling from the state supreme court could impact legal challenges in other states like Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and New York, which have similar state constitutional protections for the environment.

Young people across the US have been leading the way in climate lawsuits seeking to hold various government entities and fossil fuel companies accountable for the impacts of the climate crisis.

Last month, Hawaii settled one such suit and committed to decarbonizing its transit system over the next two decades.

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