Montana Supreme Court rejects state attempt to block landmark climate ruling News
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Montana Supreme Court rejects state attempt to block landmark climate ruling

The Supreme Court of the State of Montana denied the state’s attempt to stay a landmark climate ruling in a 5-2 decision on Tuesday. In August 2023, a Montana state judge struck down a provision of the Montana Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) because it violated “the right to a clean and healthful environment,” a fundamental right enshrined in Montana’s Constitution.

The court found that the Montana First Judicial District Court did not abuse its discretion when it denied the state’s attempt to block its August decision. In its denial, the district court stated that the August ruling does not prevent the state “from carrying out its statutory functions, including performing environmental analyses on permit applications and deciding whether to issue permits.” “It requires that these statutory functions are carried out in a constitutional manner,” the district court said.

Montana Supreme Court Justices Jim Rice and Dirk Sandefur noted that they would have granted the state’s motion to block the August ruling.

In response to the ruling, Our Children’s Trust Senior Staff Attorney Nate Bellinger, counsel for plaintiffs, stated:

Yesterday’s Montana Supreme Court ruling rejected the State’s attempt to maintain a dangerous status quo—one that already harms both Montana’s natural environment as well as the 16 Held youth plaintiffs. The Montana Supreme Court agreed with the District Court and the plaintiffs that the State had not satisfied the criteria necessary for a stay of Judge Seeley’s declaratory judgment or injunction.

In August, the district court held that a limitation in the Montana Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) prohibiting the consideration of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG emissions) when reviewing energy and mining projects violates the state constitution because it “categorically limits” what government actors can examine when working to protect Montana’s environment. This ruling favored a group of youth plaintiffs who alleged that the state failed to protect them and future generations from the harmful effects of climate change. The case was the first constitutional climate suit in US history to make it to trial. 

In December 2023, Montana, jointly with several other states, filed a lawsuit challenging a Biden administration greenhouse gas emissions rule requiring states to reduce vehicle emissions to help achieve the administration’s goal of having net-zero emissions by 2050.