Montana Republicans appeal to state Supreme Court to overturn landmark climate ruling

Montana Republicans appeal to state Supreme Court to overturn landmark climate ruling

Montana Republican officials on Wednesday urged the state Supreme Court to overturn a landmark 2023 climate decision that sided with a group of young plaintiffs who argued the state violated their constitutional rights by allowing fossil fuel projects to move forward without considering climate impacts.

“It’s a complex issue,” Dale Schowengerdt, representing Gov. Greg Gianfort and three state agencies, told the panel. “It is, for better or worse, a political issue.”

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

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

The ruling was hailed as a major victory in climate legal activism and was cited in lawsuits in Montana challenging permits for new fossil fuel projects, though those challenges were not served on state officials because appeals of the decision were pending, a state environmental official told The Associated Press.

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

Wednesday’s hearing reportedly drew hundreds of spectators, including plaintiff Grace Gibson-Snyder, 20.

She told the AP that Montana officials were seeking to “shirk their responsibilities” on climate.

“This is an evasion of your constitutional obligation to protect our rights and our state,” she said. “Why not try?”

A state Supreme Court decision could impact legal challenges in other states such as Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and New York, which have similar constitutional protections for the environment.

Across the United States, young people have led the way in climate-related 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 lawsuit and pledged to decarbonize its transportation system over the next two decades.