On August 14, 2023, in a “landmark” ruling, a Montana state court held that youth plaintiffs had standing to assert constitutional claims against the State of Montana, its governor and state agencies for “ignoring” the impact of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions on climate change. Held v. State of Montana, Cause No. CDV-020-307 (1st Judicial Dist. Ct., Lewis & Clark Cty., Mt.). Agreeing with the plaintiffs, the court concluded that a limitation in the Montana Environmental Policy Act (MEPA), which prohibited the state from considering climate impacts when issuing permits for energy projects, violated the plaintiffs’ right under the state constitution to a “clean and healthful environment.”
MEPA, enacted in 1971, states that its purposes include “provid[ing] for the adequate review of state actions in order to ensure that . . . environmental attributes are fully considered by the legislature in enacting laws to fulfill constitutional obligations . . . .” In 2011, the legislature amended the statute to curtail the scope of environmental reviews. Under the so-called MEPA limitation, Montana agencies cannot consider “an evaluation of greenhouse gas emissions and corresponding impacts to the climate in the state or beyond the state’s borders.” Mont. Code Ann. § 75-1-201(2)(a). In 2023, the legislature added a provision that eliminated equitable remedies (i.e., the ability to “vacate, void, or delay a lease, permit, license, certificate, authorization, or other entitlement or authority”) for litigants who “claim that [an] environmental review is inadequate based in whole or in part upon greenhouse gas emissions and impacts to the climate in Montana or beyond Montana’s borders . . . .” Id. § 75-1-201(6)(a)(ii).