A federal judge on Monday ruled in favor of youth activists in Montana, who sued officials in the state for violating their right to a healthy environment.
The suit alleged that the government's pro-fossil-fuel policies contributed to climate change, and violated parts of Montana's state constitution that guarantee a "clean and healthful environment."
The suit focused on how Montana handles new fossil fuel energy permitting. State policy prohibits its agencies from weighing the effects of greenhouse gas emissions that result from those projects.
Lawyers presented evidence that emissions were driving warming, reducing snowpack and increasing wildfire and drought risk. The plaintiffs alleged the changes were negatively affecting their mental and physical health.
Judge Kathy Seeley ruled that Montana's policy is both contributing to climate change and preventing the state from addressing the problem. She said attorneys for the state did not have a compelling explanation for why agencies didn't evaluate greenhouse emissions.
Now Montana's legislature will have to decide how to alter state policy to bring it back into constitutionality.
The case is a historic first: It's the first time a court has ruled that a government's promotion of fossil fuels violated young people's constitutional rights.
Only a few cases worldwide so far have established that governments have a duty to shield their citizens from the effects of climate change.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs hope the win will strengthen other similar cases around the U.S.
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