Montana Judge Rules in Favor of Youth Plaintiffs in Landmark Climate Case

Statement by Dr. Delta Merner, Union of Concerned Scientists

Published Aug 14, 2023

A Montana state judge today ruled that the State of Montana violated the constitutional rights of 16 youth plaintiffs by encouraging a fossil fuel economy despite scientific warnings about climate change. Judge Kathy Seeley found that the youth in Montana have “a fundamental constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment, which includes climate as part of that environmental life-support system.” The order declared that injunctive relief is appropriate.

The ruling comes as more than 40 cities, counties and states across the United States and its territories are suing major fossil fuel companies over devastating climate impacts and the companies’ concerted campaigns to spread disinformation about climate science and the harmful effects of their products.

Below is a statement by Dr. Delta Merner, lead scientist at the Science Hub for Climate Litigation at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“This court ruling is a step toward climate justice. I’m greatly encouraged to see a judge uphold people’s constitutional rights to a healthy environment. Thanks to this order, the State of Montana must now take into account climate impacts when considering fossil fuel permits.

“This case is a clear win for climate science. Throughout the trial, climate science, the role fossil fuel emissions play in climate change, and the harm being caused to Montana's youth were irrefutable.

“Whether it’s governments, fossil fuel companies, or industry trade groups—holding polluters and their enablers accountable is a critical piece of meaningful climate action. The case in Montana is a clear sign that seeking climate justice through the courts is a viable and powerful strategy.

“In the heart of Danger Season, when more than 94% of Americans have experienced an extreme weather warning, it’s critical that immediate action is taken to dramatically reduce heat trapping emissions, rein in the unchecked social and political influence of fossil fuel companies and stop the spread of dangerous disinformation to consumers.”

Additional UCS Resources and Analyses:

A blogpost by Dr. Merner, “Three Predictions for Climate Litigation in 2023.”

A blogpost by Dr. Merner, “From Research to Action: The Growing Impact of Attribution Science.”

A blogpost by Dr. Merner, “US States and Communities are Suing the Fossil Fuel Industry: Six Things You Need to Know.”

A blogpost by UCS Accountability Campaign Director Kathy Mulvey, “An A to Z of Fossil Fuel Industry Deception.”

A UCS blogpost documenting evidence of Big Oil disinformation coming out of a U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Reform investigation.

A study led by Dr. Merner on the key gaps in climate litigation-relevant research.

A UCS report, “The Climate Deception Dossiers: Internal Fossil Fuel Industry Memos Reveal Decades of Corporate Disinformation.”

In a video, UCS scientists reacted to misleading statements made by the CEOs of BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil and Shell at a previous oversight hearing.