Young Activists Win Climate Change Lawsuit Against Montana

Aug 16, 2023

A judge in Montana this week ruled in favor of 16 young people who sued the state. The lawsuit claimed the state violated their constitutional right to a “clean and healthful environment.”

The ruling could open the door for more legal actions against other governments.  

The district court judge in the case ruled that the process used by Montana to oversee fossil fuel development is unconstitutional. That's because the state does not take into account the harmful effects of burning fossil fuels.     

The young activists who brought the lawsuit are aged 5 to 22. They argued at trial that they would be most impacted by climate change. That would mean the state's inaction would affect them most. Language in the state constitution requires that the state provide “a clean and healthful environment.”  

Julia Olson is an attorney for the environmental group Our Children’s Trust. She was one of the lawyers for the young activists. She called the ruling “a game changer." She also described the case as a "turning point" in the efforts of young people to save the planet.

Lawyers for Montana had argued that the state contributes very little to climate change. They said they would appeal the judge’s ruling. 

But activists looking to the courts to fight climate change suffered a setback earlier this year. The US Ninth Circuit Court ruled in a separate case that the court could not order the federal government to adopt a "scheme to combat climate change.” The ruling said that would exceed the court's power. 

Photo from Unsplash courtesy of Matthew Lancaster.

Reflect: How do you think laws and courts can help protect the environment?

The lawsuit claimed state agencies were violating the young activists’ constitutional right to a “clean and healthful environment.” This detail from the story would best be described as _______. (Common Core RI.5.8; RI.6.8)
a. a fact
b. a prediction
c. a belief
d. an opinion
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