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Keeping you in-the-know on environmental, social and governance developments

We’ve written before about the rise in climate litigation. While more lawsuits are being filed, few have run their full course. A Montana case brought by sixteen young plaintiffs through the organization Our Children’s Trust is one of the first cases to see a verdict and could serve as a blueprint for litigation in other states.

The plaintiffs alleged that Montana’s anti-climate policies violated their right to a healthy environment under the Montana constitution. The trial was held in June and was closely monitored by potential plaintiffs and defendants alike. The judge’s ruling sided with the plaintiffs and The Guardian reports that several state policies were targeted by the litigation:

“Among the policies the challengers targeted: a provision in the Montana Environmental Policy Act barring the state from considering how its energy economy climate change impacts. In 2011, the legislature amended the law to prevent environmental reviews from considering ‘regional, national or global’ environmental impacts – a provision the original complaint called the ‘climate change exception’. This year, state lawmakers amended the provision to specifically ban the state from considering greenhouse gas emissions in environmental reviews for new energy projects. The state’s attorneys said that should have rendered the lawsuit moot, but [Judge] Seeley rejected the argument.”

State officials will almost certainly appeal the decision, but the trial court’s ruling is significant. This is one of the first major climate cases to progress through a trial. Many potential litigants have taken a “wait and see” approach. It is unclear if this ruling will inspire others to bring forward similar suits, but it may bode well for Our Children’s Trust which has several pending suits in other states. It may also serve as a catalyst for companies to update their assessment of and assumptions about legal risks related to climate matters.

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The Editor

Zachary Barlow is a licensed attorney. He earned his JD from the University of Mississippi and has a bachelor’s in Public Policy Leadership. He practiced law at a mid-size firm and handled a wide variety of cases. During this time he assisted in overseeing compliance of a public entity and litigated contract disputes, gaining experience both in and outside of the courtroom. Zachary currently assists the editorial team by providing research and creating content on a spectrum of ESG… View Profile