© 2024 Wyoming Public Media
800-729-5897 | 307-766-4240
Wyoming Public Media is a service of the University of Wyoming
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Transmission & Streaming Disruptions

A decision will soon be made in the nation's first youth-led climate lawsuit

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

More than a dozen young people are suing the state of Montana for not addressing human-caused climate change. It's the first youth-led climate case to make it to trial in the U.S. And as Ellis Juhlin with Montana Public Radio reports, it likely won't be the last.

ELLIS JUHLIN, BYLINE: A few hundred people braved stormy weather to celebrate the end of the trial Tuesday at a park in Montana's capital city of Helena.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: The heroic 16 are here to reset history.

JUHLIN: The heroic 16 are young people ages 5 to 22. They're suing the state of Montana for violating their constitutional right to a healthy environment by promoting fossil fuel energy policies. The state tried several times to have the case thrown out since it was first filed in 2020. At the post-trial celebration, 18-year-old plaintiff Lander Busse told supporters he couldn't believe they had made it this far.

LANDER BUSSE: Just normal kids who care about their home and love where they live and want to protect it can come together and do something really special here.

JUHLIN: The Montana case is part of a broader movement where young people are suing governments for failing to act on climate change. Similar litigation is pending in several states, including Utah, Hawaii and Virginia. Mary Wood is an environmental law professor at the University of Oregon and has been following this movement.

MARY WOOD: The world is watching the Held case to see what rulings come out of it, because those rulings will very much have an impact on cases around the world.

JUHLIN: The youth plaintiffs in the case, known as Held v. Montana, are asking the state to set a limit on planet-warming emissions. Attorneys for the state argue reducing Montana's emissions wouldn't make a significant impact on global climate change. In closing arguments this week, Montana's assistant attorney general, Michael Russell, said the case had devolved into a popularity contest.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MICHAEL RUSSELL: This case has received national attention in part because it has been billed or at least perceived as a sort of referendum on climate change generally.

JUHLIN: Attorney Nate Bellinger argued on behalf of the Montana youth.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NATE BELLINGER: Children deserve protected status in cases where government conduct harms them, including here, where the state approves every fossil fuel permit with zero consideration of harm to children.

JUHLIN: This year, Montana lawmakers passed legislation that allows energy projects to be permitted without considering greenhouse gas emissions. Wood believes the timing is right for lawsuits like this, as extreme weather becomes more frequent across the world.

WOOD: We're at this juncture where if the courts don't step in, there may not be action soon enough of this magnitude to prevent us from going over the climate cliff, so to speak.

JUHLIN: With the trial over, the decision rests with Montana District Court Judge Kathy Seeley. Attorneys say it could take a few months before there's a ruling. Whatever Seeley rules, it will likely be appealed to the state Supreme Court because the case is predicated on Montana's constitutional right to a healthy environment.

For NPR News, I'm Ellis Juhlin in Helena. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ellis Juhlin