Montana Republicans Oppose Climate Ruling Backed by Native Nations

Montana attorneys representing Republican officials on Wednesday urged the state Supreme Court to overturn a 2023 climate case brought by young environmentalists and backed by six Native Nations.

District Court Judge Kathy Seeley ruled in August 2023 that state agencies were violating Montanans’ constitutional right “to a clean and healthful environment” by allowing fossil fuel development without proper consideration for global warming.

In Held v. Montana, Seeley found the state’s policy of evaluating requests for fossil fuel permits, which forbids state agencies from considering the impacts of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions or climate change despite the fact that some energy projects “emit substantial levels of GHG pollution,” violated the state’s constitution. Seeley noted that Montana’s emissions are “a substantial factor in causing climate change impacts to Montana’s environment.”

The ruling was a win for the 16 young environmentalists who brought the case, who were deemed to be “disproportionately harmed by fossil fuel pollution and climate impacts” due to their young ages.

Climate Change case
Youth plaintiffs in the climate change lawsuit, Held vs. Montana, arrive at the Lewis and Clark County Courthouse, June 20, 2023, in Helena, Mont., for the final day of the trial. On Wednesday, the case…

Thom Bridge/Independent Record via AP, File)/Independent Record via AP

The district ruling was appealed and brought to the state Supreme Court.

In March, ahead of the state’s Supreme Court, six federally recognized Native Nations with reservations located within the State of Montana submitted an amici curiae, which is used when an individual or organization is not directly involved in the case but has expertise or insight.

The following Native tribes submitted the amici brief to “urge this Court to affirm the trial court’s ruling, which rightfully upholds the guarantees of the Montana Constitution to a clean and healthful environment”: The Blackfeet Tribe; the Chippewa Cree Indians of the Rocky Boy’s Reservation; the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes; the Fort Belknap Indian Community; the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians of Montana; and the Northern Cheyenne Tribe.

The tribes argued that in affirming the 2023 ruling, the Court “also upholds the network of related and interconnected rights afforded by Montana’s Constitution to members of these Native Nations: the right to individual dignity under Article II, Section 4, and the right to the preservation of Tribal cultures under Article X, Section 1, Clause 2.”

Newsweek left phone messages for the Chippewa Cree Tribe, Fort Belknap Indian Communit and the Northern Cheyenne Tribe on Wednesday afternoon.

Newsweek also reached out for comment to the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians , the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and the Blackfeet Nation via email.

On Wednesday, attorneys representing state officials, including Republican Governor Greg Gianforte, told the justices that greenhouse gases from Montana are insignificant on a global scale, according to the Associated Press (AP).

Newsweek reached out to the press secretary for the governor’s office via email.

“Global climate change is a complex issue that can’t be solved by a judicial decision,” state attorney Dale Schowengerdt said of the ruling, the AP reported.

Meanwhile, attorney Roger Sullivan argued on behalf of the plaintiffs. According to the AP, he said: “The temperature goes up day by day. If nothing is done, it will be much hotter 50 years from now, when these young plaintiffs are my age, because of this climate emergency to which the state of Montana is a substantial contributing factor.”

The state’s Supreme Court is expected to make a decision in the coming weeks to months on the lower court’s ruling.

Newsweek reached out to lawyers for plaintiffs and appellants via email on Wednesday.