The Montana Justice Department, headed by Republican Attorney General Austin Knudsen, is appealing a first-of-its-kind climate change ruling from earlier this year. The ruling determined that state agencies did not do enough to protect 16 young plaintiffs from the harm caused by climate change.

On September 29, the state announced its intention to appeal the August ruling made by District Court Judge Kathy Seeley.

The Held v. Montana case

In Held v. Montana, Judge Seeley found that the Montana Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) violated the constitutional rights of the plaintiffs. This law, established in 1971, requires state agencies to assess the potential environmental impacts of proposed projects and seek public input before granting permits.

Following a legislative change made in 2023, the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is no longer obligated to consider the impact of greenhouse gases when permitting fossil fuel projects. This would only change if carbon dioxide is officially declared a regulated pollutant by the federal government.

The plaintiffs argued that they were already experiencing the consequences of climate change. These consequences included increased wildfire smoke and drought.

On the other hand, the state argued that the greenhouse gas emissions from Montana’s fossil fuel projects were negligible compared to global emissions.

The new field of climate change law

Held v. Montana is part of a growing worldwide movement to hold governments legally responsible for protecting their citizens from climate change.

Last week, the European Court of Human Rights heard arguments from young Portuguese individuals and their lawyers. The plaintiffs claimed that 32 European governments were violating their human rights by failing to address climate change.

According to Yahoo! News, it’s expected to take several months before the state of Montana submits its written argument outlining the appeal against Judge Seeley’s ruling.

Updates to MEPA 

Meanwhile, the DEQ is inviting Montana residents to provide input on potential updates to MEPA.

Chris Dorrington, the director of the DEQ, told reporters that the law is outdated. According to Dorrington, it’s necessary to hear from Montanans about how MEPA should be shaped in the present and future.

Officials want Montana residents to provide input on how greenhouse gas emissions and climate change should be incorporated into the environmental assessment process.

A series of public hearings, including one in Billings on Monday night, have been scheduled for this month. Additionally, the DEQ is accepting public comments online until the end of the year.

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