Six years after attorneys filed the landmark constitutional climate change case Juliana v. United States – and just days before settlement talks were scheduled between the youth plaintiffs and the government – attorneys general from 17 states, including Montana, have asked to insert themselves into the case so they can oppose any proposed settlement and stop the case from proceeding to trial.
Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia are seeking intervention to oppose the 21 youth plaintiffs’ motion for leave to amend their complaint. The proposed intervenors said they want to “participate in settlement negotiations” even though they will “object to any proposed settlement” in order to fight Biden’s climate agenda.
Sixteen Montana youth filed a similar constitutional climate change suit at the state level in Held v. State of Montana in March 2020. The Held suit asserts that by supporting a fossil fuel-driven energy system that contributes to the climate crisis, Montana is violating the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights to a clean and healthful environment; to seek safety, health, and happiness; and to individual dignity and equal protection of the law. The suit also argues that the state’s fossil fuel energy system degrades and depletes Montana’s constitutionally protected public trust resources, including the atmosphere, rivers and lakes, and fish and wildlife.
“Our young plaintiffs want the people in these states to know that some of them come from some of these states, like Montana and Alaska and Utah,” said Julia Olson, chief legal counsel for Our Children’s Trust, which represents the Juliana plaintiffs as well as youth plaintiffs in some of the intervening states. “They want the children and future generations in your states, regardless of their political affiliation, to be protected from the ravages of the climate crisis and have opportunities to work in the jobs of our future that will keep communities healthy and prosperous with clean power. They stand with all people on the frontlines of this crisis around the country, whether you live with environmental racism or the prospect of losing a job in a dying industry.”
The youth plaintiffs in Montana are represented by Nate Bellinger of Our Children’s Trust, Shiloh Hernandez of Western Environmental Law Center, and Roger Sullivan and Dustin Leftridge of McGarvey Law.
“Montana’s decision to join other states and fight the youth plaintiffs in the Juliana case underscores the states’ commitment to fossil fuels at a time when it should be moving towards clean energy sources, which will create jobs, save Montanans money, and improve air quality,” said Nate Bellinger. “Montana’s leaders should be focusing their efforts on protecting its own citizens, especially its youth, from the climate crisis, rather than protecting the interests of the fossil fuel industry.”
The attempt at intervention in the Juliana lawsuit comes at a time when U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken ordered attorneys for plaintiffs and for the Department of Justice to meet for a settlement conference later this month with Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin, calling it “a tremendous opportunity” and not just as a “ministerial step.”
The Juliana suit, filed in 2015 by 21 youth plaintiffs, argues that affirmative actions by the federal government directly contributed to the climate crisis — including creating a national fossil fuel-based energy system that is a substantial factor in causing the plaintiffs’ injuries. By doing so, the plaintiffs argue, the government has knowingly violated their constitutional rights to life, liberty and property, the public trust, and equal protection of the law.
Nate Bellinger, co-counsel for Held v. State of Montana, Our Children’s Trust, 413-687-