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Montana's youth-led climate case could set precedent

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Mark Moran

(Big Sky Connection) Sixteen kids are participating in a court trial with a lawsuit accusing Montana state agencies and the governor of compromising the next generation's right to a healthy future.

It is the first climate case led by young people to go to trial. The plaintiffs said the governor's embrace of fossil fuels threatens their future, and argued it runs afoul of the 1972 Montana state Constitution, which guarantees the right to a "clean and healthful environment."

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Sandra Zellmer, professor of law at the University of Montana, said they are arguing their climate future is being taken out of their hands.

"They claim that their life expectancies will be shortened, experience greater harm from wildfires, loss of river flows, food support systems that rely on water and irrigation," Zellmer outlined.

Zellmer noted legal experts across the country are paying close attention to the case, and argued while laws might not change immediately, young peoples' voices being heard on climate change is precedent-setting. Critics of the lawsuit have labeled it "a waste of time."

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In addition to setting precedent for future legal cases, Zellmer predicts the case will have an effect on future generations and cut across cultural lines, too.

"Not just our children and grandchildren, but their children and grandchildren," Zellmer pointed out. "Indigenous people have talked about protecting the environment to support life into the seventh generation into the future, well into the future, and I think that resonates."

The state will present witnesses to say the students' claims amount to "climate alarmism," and climate change is an issue too big to be blamed on a single state or agency.