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USA: Young Activists Sue Montana Over Climate Impact

USA: Young Activists Sue Montana Over Climate Impact

Status: 06/13/2023 08:16 am

In the US, children and youth are suing the state of Montana for climate change. The government violated their right to a “clean and healthy environment”. This is the first trial of its kind – more to come.

Youngest Plaintiff Is Just Five Years Old: A historic lawsuit has begun in the United States where children and youth are suing the state of Montana for violating their right to a “clean and healthy environment.”

The 16 plaintiffs, aged between five and 22, allege harm to the state from the “dangerous effects of fossil fuels and the climate crisis.” Children are particularly vulnerable to the worst effects of climate change. The plaintiffs want to take legal action to force those responsible in their own countries to do something about climate change.

“Hero vs. Montana” – A Historical Investigation

This is the first case after dozens of similar cases in the US over the past ten years, which have now resulted in a lawsuit. Earlier cases were dismissed before trial. That’s another reason the “Hero vs. Montana” case is being followed closely around the country — because it could lead to similar negotiations.

The lead plaintiff is 22-year-old Ricky Held, whose family runs a ranch in southeastern Montana, near some of the planet’s richest coal deposits. She decided to join the lawsuit against the state after seeing wildfires blacken the farm’s skies, drought ravage livestock and floods erode nearby riverbanks, she said.

He said in his testimony that his family’s livelihood and well-being were increasing. Dozens of kilometers of power cables were burnt by the forest fire, so we have been without electricity for a month. Cattle died because herders could not pump water and there was a shortage of grass due to drought, he said. By 2021, wildfires would have taken the air to breathe “all summer long,” sending ash out of the sky. Due to the mass evictions, his family’s motel business suffered, the environmental science graduate said.

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The focus is regulation in environmental law

The trial is scheduled to last more than two weeks at a courthouse in Montana’s capital, Helena. At the heart of the case is a clause in the state constitution that favors fossil fuels. Montana politicians are pursuing coal as an export commodity for both domestic and foreign markets.

The young activists want to convince District Judge Kathy Seeley that fossil fuel extraction threatens their health, their livelihoods and future generations. “The state and every individual must maintain and improve a clean and healthy environment in Montana for present and future generations,” the plaintiffs said.

They are not concerned with financial compensation, but rather with a declaration that their rights have been violated. Most notably, they question the constitutionality of a provision in the state’s environmental law that prohibits government agencies from considering climate impacts when reviewing permit applications related to fossil fuels.

Advocate: A “vanishingly small” proportion of emissions

The Montana state attorney tried to downplay the importance of the case. At the start of the hearing, he argued that sparsely populated Montana produces only a “vanishingly small” proportion of global emissions.

Climate activist Held disagrees. “I know climate change is a global problem, but Montana needs to take responsibility for our part,” he testified. “You can’t dismiss it, there’s nothing you can do about it.”