The Historic Youth Climate Action Lawsuit Starts Today in Helena
All eyes are on Montana this week as an historical trial begins on behalf of 16 youth plaintiffs that allege that the state's failure to take climate action violates their constitutional right to a "clean and healthful environment in Montana for present and future generations." Last week, the skies in New York turned an apocalyptic orange from climate change fueled fires in Canada. More and more people are connecting the dots between the extreme weather we are experiencing and global warming. But, young people already know.
And now, in a Montana courtroom, Gen Z takes center stage.
One of the key principles of our organization is to "Think Beyond Your Age." Make learning about this important trial your #onegreenthing today. Ask the young people you love about climate action and let them know they are not alone. Pledge to take action - every day- to create a healthier, greener, more just future.
Here are three things you should know about this important climate action lawsuit:
1. The lawsuit alleges a constitutional violation.
In March 2020, 16 young people sued their home state of Montana. They allege that the state's energy policy has unlawfully favored the fossil fuel industry, contributed to global warming, and has resulted in a violation of the state constitutional right to clean environment. The plaintiffs seek that the court declare the State Energy Plan in unconstitutional and order the state to develop a climate action plan, including a full accounting of the state's greenhouse gas emissions.
You can read the complaint here.
Ratified in 1972, the Montana State Constitution specifically says:
Constitution of Montana -- Article IX -- ENVIRONMENT AND NATURAL RESOURCES
Section 1. Protection and improvement. (1) The state and each person shall maintain and improve a clean and healthful environment in Montana for present and future generations.
(2) The legislature shall provide for the administration and enforcement of this duty.
(3) The legislature shall provide adequate remedies for the protection of the environmental life support system from degradation and provide adequate remedies to prevent unreasonable depletion and degradation of natural resources
The lawyers will lay out that 350ppm of carbon dioxide pollution in the atmosphere is the standard for a stable and livable climate that meets the constitutional right for a clean and healthful environment. Expect, too, for young people to take the stand to talk about their eco-anxiety and how the climate crisis right now is impacting their ability to enjoy a clean environment. The State of Montana will likely argue that the issue is too big and global for it to be blamed or for a climate plan to make any difference. We'll be watching closely.
Hear from Julia Olson, founder of Our Children's Trust, about the goals of Held v. Montana here:
You can watch a livestream of the Held v. Montana trial here.
2. The lawsuit is part of a national movement supported by the nonprofit legal organization, Our Children's Trust.
The nonprofit Our Children's Trust has spearheaded and organized these lawsuits. Follow them for more information on Montana and the four state lawsuits lawsuits filed across the country in Florida, Virginia, Utah and Hawaii.
The federal case Juliana v. United States, was filed in 2015. In this case, 21 youth plaintiffs brought suit against the United States, the president, and various agencies. They sought a declaration that the federal government has, through all of its energy and climate policies violated plaintiffs' due process and equal protection rights as well as their unenumerated rights under the Ninth Amendment & public trust doctrine. The plaintiffs asked for an injunction to prevent the federal government from further violating their rights and declaratory relief to develop a federal plan to reduce CO2 emissions.
The key issues involved the legal issue of standing. Did the kids have an injury in order to bring a lawsuit? Does the Ninth Amendment include a right to clean environment? And can the courts require the federal government to adopt a comprehensive climate policy?
On June 3, 2023, Judge Aiken of United District Court of the District of Oregon ruled that the case may proceed to trial and denied the requests of 18 Republican Attorney-Generals to intervene in the case. Judge Aiken found that the requested relief - a clean energy policy that doesn't violate the rights of young people- was squarely within the powers of Article III of the Constitution.
The Department of Justice may still fight to prevent the Juliana case from going trial by using an obscure legal tactic called "a writ of mandamus." Learn more about how you can express your support for these young activists here.
Learn more about the lawsuits in this documentary, Youth v. Gov, which now available on Netflix.
3. Globally, young people are going to the courts to take action urging intergenerational policy to address the climate crisis, and alleging eco-anxiety as a specific harm.
Similar actions, some stating eco-anxiety has an injury due to government inaction, have been filed across the globe. For example, consider Greenpeace v. Norway (2016), which is on appeal in the to the European Court of Human Rights. It's the only one of three international climate cases to get this far. In this case, Norwegian adults and youth claim that the government's agreement to license additional oil exploration off the coast of Norway violated their human rights. Anxiety about climate change is listed as one of the harms for the governments failure to deny the lease for oil drilling. In KlimaSeniorinnen v Switzerland, (ECtHR 2019), senior citizens and young people allege that failure to get to net zero carbon pollution has harmed them, including psychological harm and climate anxiety.
Our Children's Trust is also supporting and working with litigators in youth climate lawsuits in Norway, Netherlands, Pakistan, Canada and Mexico.
The truth is that the people who contribute the least about of carbon pollution are suffering the most. This is true racially, economically, and intergenerationally. It's time for us all to get involved.
Will the young plaintiffs prevail?
They have a strong legal case. Unlike the plaintiffs in the Juliana case, the Held plaintiffs have documented specific injury and the violation of an enumerated right outlined in the state constitution. The current Republican legislature in Montana wants to amend the state constitution, but it hasn't had the supermajority yet. The State will attack causation and redressability. Rest assured we will be watching the trial unfold.
Yes, this is a national story. The New York Times has covered it and many other global outlets, but focus on the journalists here on the ground in Montana.
Follow the Montana Free Press & the Flathead Beacon Held v. Montana coverage as the trial develops. Support the work of Our Children's Trust and amplify the message that our young people are demanding action.
And stay tuned for more from OneGreenThing.