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China Daily Global / 2023-06 / 15 / Page006

Environment trial begins in Montana

China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-06-15 00:00

DENVER — One of the first climate change trials in US history has begun in the sparsely populated, western state of Montana, where the local conservative government is facing a hostile backlash over anti-climate change policies it recently imposed.

"Do children have a right to a healthy climate? Montana case is a test," the Monday headline in The Christian Science Monitor read, in a case that is going viral across the United States with national climate change policy implications.

In 2020, 16 plaintiffs between the ages of 5 and 22 from around the state banded together to file "Held vs Montana", alleging that state officials violated their constitutional right to a healthy environment by enacting pro-fossil fuel policies.

Students said their case hinged on a 1972 Montana Constitution statute that provided all of Montana's 1.1 million residents "the right to a clean and healthy environment", according to, a pro-environment website.

This spring, the case was directly attacked by Montana's super-conservative majority state legislature, when Republican Governor Greg Gianforte signed unprecedented legislation eliminating climate change assessment when state agencies approve fossil fuel projects, including mining and drilling for gas and oil.

Republican lawmakers denied the recent far-reaching legislation was crafted to derail the children's lawsuit, but had tried unsuccessfully other legal maneuvers to stop the trial.

Montana, the US' fourth-largest state bordering Canada in the northwest, has the largest estimated recoverable coal reserves in the nation, which account for about 30 percent of the US total, according to media reports.

Ironically, the fossil-fuel-rich state also is home to thousands of outdoor enthusiasts who enjoy the pristine isolated environment, and clean air and water via the Rocky Mountains that run through the western part of the Treasure State.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit would cite numerous instances where climate change triggers, supported by a vast majority of climate scientists, had adversely affected air quality, media reports said.

A staggering 97 percent of climate scientists "agree that humans are causing global warming and climate change", according to articles published by NASA during the past decade.

The two-week trial will be closely watched by other states exploring legislation to either combat or support or deny climate change.

"A favorable verdict in the Montana case could create momentum elsewhere," said OCT attorney Phil Gregory, noting that the Hawaii Supreme Court in March upheld the rejection of a biomass plant by recognizing the "right to a stable climate".


Cathy Whitlock, a professor at Montana State University, testifies during Held vs. Montana at the Lewis and Clark County Courthouse in Helena on Tuesday. THOM BRIDGE/ASSOCIATED PRESS



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