In Montana: Kids Sue for Their Future, While Legislators Cling to Fossil Fueled Past

March 31, 2023

Residents watch flames above Red Lodge, Montana, June 15, 2021.

New York Times:

Badge and Lander Busse tromped into the forest behind their house on a snowy Sunday in March, their three hunting dogs in tow. It was in these woods, just outside Glacier National Park, that the teenage boys learned to hunt, fish, dress a deer and pick birdshot from Hungarian partridges.

It was also here that the Busse boys grew attuned to the signals of a rapidly warming planet — torrential rains that eroded their hiking trails, wildfires that scarred the land, smoke so thick it forced them indoors.

Watching their cherished wilderness succumb to the effects of climate change enraged the Busse boys, and three years ago, they decided to do something about it. Along with 14 other local youth, they joined with an environmental legal organization and sued the state.

In their complaint, filed in 2020, the young activists seized on language in the Montana state Constitution that guarantees residents “the right to a clean and healthful environment,” and stipulates that the state and individuals are responsible for maintaining and improving the environment “for present and future generations.”

By virtue of those few words, they argue, Montana’s extensive support for fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas is unconstitutional because the resulting pollution is dangerously heating the planet and has robbed them of a healthy environment.

It is a concise but untested legal challenge to a state government that has taken a sharp turn to the right in recent years, and is aggressively defending itself. The trial, which legal experts say is the first involving a constitutional climate case, begins on June 12 in the state capital of Helena.

“There have been almost no trials on climate change,” said Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School. “This is the first that will get into the merits of climate change and what needs to be done, and how the state may have to change its policies.”

The origins of the case stretch back nearly a decade. In 2011, a nonprofit called Our Children’s Trust petitioned the Montana Supreme Court to rule that the state has a duty to address climate change. The court declined to weigh in, effectively telling the group to start in the lower courts.

So the lawyers at Our Children’s Trust began building their case. They worked with the environmental community to identify potential plaintiffs. They cataloged the ways in which the state was being impacted by climate change. And they documented the state’s extensive support for the fossil fuel industry, which includes permitting, subsidies and favorable regulations.

More background at the link

Montana Free Press:

A trio of Republican-sponsored bills seeking to limit local governments’ ability to steer their communities toward renewable energies are advancing through the Montana Legislature, despite pushback from two of the state’s largest and fastest-growing cities.

Officials for Bozeman and Missoula, both of which have climate action policies, say legislative meddling will impede elected officials’ ability to carry out the wishes of their residents and jeopardize their ability to develop the kind of energy infrastructure and policies that appeal to many of the competitive, high-dollar businesses that power those local economies. Proponents maintain the pro-petroleum fuel and anti-solar energy bills will preserve consumer choice, keep costs associated with new construction down, and help Montana stay ahead of “ill-advised” trends in places like Eugene, Oregon, which is considering a ban on new residential “fossil fuel infrastructure.”

Sen. Jason Small, R-Busby, is sponsoring Senate Bill 228, which would prevent a local government from prohibiting the use or purchase of petroleum fuel sources, or the appliances and vehicles that burn them. It passed the Senate on March 2 and is awaiting a vote from the House Transportation Committee. Small, a boilermaker by trade, is also sponsoring Senate Bill 208, which seeks to prevent a local government from prohibiting or impeding the connection or reconnection of electric, natural gas or propane utility lines. It passed with all Republicans except Sen. Brad Molnar, R-Laurel, in support and Democrats unanimously opposed. It’s currently awaiting a vote in the House Energy, Technology and Federal Relations Committee. 

A third bill focuses on solar energy and electric-vehicle charging infrastructure. Rep. Josh Kassmier, R-Fort Benton, is sponsoring House Bill 241, which would prevent a local government from requiring solar panels, solar panel-wiring, batteries or “other equipment for solar panels or electric vehicles” in building construction.

All three measures were requested or co-sponsored by Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick, R-Great Falls, a renowned fossil-fuel booster who carried one of the 2021 Legislature’s most controversial energy bills at the request of NorthWestern Energy. The three bills also seek to expand the “power denied” section of Montana law, which deals with regulatory arenas that are expressly off-limits to city and county governments. 


One Response to “In Montana: Kids Sue for Their Future, While Legislators Cling to Fossil Fueled Past”

  1. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    I wondered how Montana wilderness boys would adapt to range-limited EVs (and lack of charging infrastructure). Like my wide-ranging niece, they’ll have to compromise and go for a hybrid.

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