There is much to celebrate about the exciting, landmark decision from the Montana District Court in the youth case of Held v. Montana. (To read the full text of the decision, issued on August 14, 2023, click HERE.) Shortly after the trial ended in June, a summary of key evidence and the plaintiffs’ final argument was posted on this site HERE.
For decades Montana’s Constitution has included the right to a clean, healthful environment, but the Republican state government has disregarded it. Instead, it has aggressively encouraged an increase in fossil fuel mining, refining, burning, power generation and exportation, and ignored the resulting environmental and climate impacts. Judge Kathy Seeley’s 103-page decision is unhesitatingly clear and persuasive. She ruled that some provisions of Montana’s environmental legislation are unconstitutional, such as those that forbid any consideration of climate change when granting energy-related permits and disallow climate change court claims.
As a trial decision it might not be binding on other courts, but it represents a huge moral victory for climate action. Her findings on the cause and extent of the climate crisis are unassailable, especially since the State made little effort to contest the plaintiffs’ expert testimony. For example, part way through the trial the State decided not to call its opposing climate consultant as an expert witness.
On the day the decision was released the Washington Post reported this “sweeping win, one of the strongest decisions on climate change ever issued by a court, could energize the environmental movement and usher in a wave of cases aimed at advancing action on climate change.” This “stunning ruling,” according to the New York Times the next day, will compel “Montana, a major coal and gas producing state, to consider climate change when deciding whether to approve or renew fossil fuel projects.”
By comparison, we In Ontario and the rest of Canada continue to wait and hope for our courts to brush off their timidity and allow climate claims to succeed. Most recently, the youth climate case of Mathur v. Ontario, the first one to reach trial in Canada, was dismissed on April 14, 2023. That decision, now under appeal, is reviewed on this site HERE. Thanks to Judge Seeley, the analysis, findings, and decision in Held v. Montana will now be required reading for Canadian judges adjudicating a climate claim. And hopefully this document will provide a template which will embolden them to follow suit.