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Lawsuit challenges young climate change activists against fossil fuel-friendly state in trial

Young people battling Montana officials over climate change will return to state court on Tuesday in a first-of-its-kind lawsuit that environmentalists hope will reshape the fossil fuel-friendly state. Even though the scope of the lawsuit was narrowed, state officials tried to downplay Montana’s contributions to global warming. 16 teenage plaintiffs and their lawyers will try to convince District Judge Kathy Seeley that the state’s commitment to fossil fuels puts their health and future generations at risk for two weeks. One of the plaintiffs, Grace Gibson-Snyder, 19, of Missoula, Montana, said climate change made wildfire smoke a “defining experience” of high school football. Smoke regularly invaded his hometown, canceling practices and preventing his asthmatic teammates from playing.

Gibson-Snyder called it unpleasant. “Breathing deeper is so uncomfortable.” Gibson-Snyder felt encouraged “to know that we are heard” after Monday’s first hearing. I hope our stories will lead to improved legislation and a healthier future for all of us. The lawsuit is the first of dozens of such claims. Experts believe it could set a legal precedent but won’t impact Montana politics. Its state agencies have never denied a fossil fuel project permit, and its legislature just passed new rules favoring oil, gas and coal over renewables. The lawsuit asks whether Montana’s constitutional right to a “clean and healthy environment” obligates the state to protect residents from climate change. The environmental company filing the lawsuit wants to show how climate change is harming young people today and tomorrow by enlisting plaintiffs between the ages of 5 and 22.

The lawsuit is the first of dozens of such claims. Experts believe it could set a legal precedent but won’t impact Montana politics. Its state agencies have never denied a fossil fuel project permit, and its legislature just passed new rules favoring oil, gas and coal over renewables. The lawsuit asks whether Montana’s constitutional right to a “clean and healthy environment” obligates the state to protect residents from climate change. The environmental company filing the lawsuit wants to show how climate change is harming young people today and tomorrow by enlisting plaintiffs between the ages of 5 and 22.

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