Last week in a case called Held v. Montana, a Montana judge ruled in favor of youths who sued the state for violating their (state) constitutionally protected right to a “clean and healthful environment” through the use of fossil fuels. This overturned as unconstitutional a previous Montana law that prevented the state from considering the climate impacts of energy projects. Now Montana must consider climate change when deciding whether to approve fossil fuel projects!
This is a significant sea change, as Montana had never – not even once – denied a fossil fuel permit. The state of course is appealing the decision, backed as they are by Republican lawmakers and the petroleum industry,
No matter what happens, this decision is huge! It is the nation’s first constitutional and first youth-led climate lawsuit to go to trial, and the organization backing the plaintiffs, Our Children’s Trust, has filed lawsuits in all 50 states.
Our Children’s Trust filed a federal case, Juliana v. United States, in 2015. The case was fought by the Obama Administration, the Trump Administration, and now the Biden Administration. Biden’s Justice Department has fought the suit by declaring that “there is no constitutional right to a stable climate system.”
The Biden Administration has been a huge disappointment on climate. Although he has provided for health investments in green energy, he has nullified their benefits with his support for fossil fuel extraction. The President fought in court to allow the passage of the Joe Manchin-backed Mountain Valley Pipeline. He has approved more oil and gas drilling at an even faster rate than President Donald Trump did. As a candidate Biden promised “no more drilling on federal lands, period. Period, period, period,” but as President he has greenlit the Willow project on federal land in Alaska. He promised to work with youth and climate activists like the Sunrise Movement, but has abandoned them in favor of the fossil fuel industry.
For all the President’s talk that he had in practice already declared a climate emergency, the White House has confirmed that Biden will NOT declare a climate emergency.
But I will.
Why? Because doing so would unlock many more levers of authority and funding to combat the climate catastrophe. That catastrophe is no longer a risk; it is a reality. This is not a time to feed our addiction to fossil fuels. It is time to break our addiction to fossil fuels.