The state of Montana is set to appeal a landmark state court ruling that sided with youth climate activists who sued the state for contributing to climate change.
Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen’s (R) office filed a notice of appeal Friday in the case Held v. Montana, which was decided by District Court Judge Kathy Seeley in August. A coalition of youth climate activists sued the state over a 2023 statute that exempted fossil fuel permitting from consideration of greenhouse gas output. Plaintiffs argued — and Seeley agreed — this violated their right under the Montana constitution to a “clean and healthful environment.”
“We look forward to the argument before the Montana Supreme Court,” a spokesperson for Knudsen’s office told The Hill in an email.
In the meantime, the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) announced last week that it will solicit Montanans’ suggestions on potential updates to the Montana Environmental Policy Act (MEPA), which still operates under decades-old administrative regulations. MEPA was the operative statute for the greenhouse gas rule that Seeley ruled against.
“MEPA has been in the spotlight recently, particularly with the Held v. State decision earlier this summer,” Montana DEQ Director Chris Dorrington said in a statement. “We want to start a thoughtful dialogue about greenhouse gas emissions and other topics, and we are seeking input that is balanced and driven by sound science.”
After a June trial, the first in the U.S. involving constitutional questions regarding the right to a healthy environment, Seeley ruled in favor of the activists. Knudsen’s office signaled at the time that it would appeal the decision, calling it “absurd” and saying the plaintiffs “found an ideological judge who bent over backward to allow the case to move forward.”
The state court ruling did not establish a federal precedent, but experts have said it is likely to add fuel to similar court efforts in the other states with some form of constitutional environmental protection — New York, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. Nine more states had proposed environmental protection amendments as of 2023.
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