A victory for Montanans’ right to a clean, healthy environment could set a precedent for other climate lawsuits nationwide.

by Katie Myers, Grist

A state judge in Montana gave climate activists a decisive win on Monday when she ruled that the state’s support of fossil fuels violates their constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment.

District Court Judge Kathy Seeley struck down as unconstitutional a state policy barring consideration of the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions in fossil fuel permitting. Her ruling establishes legal protection against broad harms caused by climate change and enshrines a state right to a world free from those harms, creating a potential foundation for future lawsuits across the country.

Participants in Youth lead climate strike marching in San Mateo around Central Park, holding signs and with demands to address climate change.

“We are heard!” Kian Tanner, one of the 16 youth plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said in a statement. He grew up near the Flathead River and testified to watching wildfires come ever closer to his home each year. “Frankly the elation and joy in my heart is overwhelming in the best way. We set the precedent not only for the United States, but for the world.”

The case was the first of its kind to reach trial. Seeley’s decision adds to a growing number of rulings that say governments have a responsibility to protect citizens from climate change. The timing of her verdict — coinciding with major wildfires and heatwaves that have taken lives worldwide — couldn’t be more poignant, said Julia Olson. She is the chief legal counsel and executive director of Our Children’s Trust, which has brought similar suits in all 50 states.

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