Montana’s 1972 constitution guarantees its citizens a right to “a clean and healthful environment in Montana for present and future generations.” The 2023 trial of Held v. State of Montana, a lawsuit brought by 16 Montana youth, attempts to show how the state government’s longstanding energy policies violate this constitutional right by favoring fossil fuel industries with high carbon emissions.
The lawsuit is named for plaintiff Rikki Held, age 22, a fifth-generation Montanan raised on a cattle ranch in the Powder River basin. In testimony, Rikki described the high toll of more powerful storms, flooding, heatwaves, drought, and severe wildfire, including one that burned her family’s ranch in 2012 and left her family without electricity for a month. Other plaintiffs from Kalispell, Bigfork, the Flathead Reservation, Livingston, Bozeman, Montana City, and Missoula testified to similar harms from wildfire and wildfire smoke, heatwaves, drought, flooding, and more.
Regardless of the verdict, I appreciate the awareness that this case brings to climate change’s effects on Montana. Just as the constitutional framers intended, I hope my generation and all those who come after will enjoy a “clean and healthful environment” – free from catastrophic wildfire, excessive smoke, and extreme weather. I hope you agree.