Montana Youth v. Montana and Its Fossil Fuel Industry

Montana Youth v. Montana and Its Fossil Fuel Industry

Next February, the first youth-led climate case will be heard in Montana. The case, officially Held v. State of Montana, will present the arguments of 16 youth plaintiffs that claim state lawmakers prioritized fossil fuel company profits over their livable future. More than most states, Montana’s legislature has favored the fossil fuel industry, keeping climate change out of the permitting process, withdrawing from a regional agreement to reduce emissions, and essentially making it easier for Big Oil to drill.

"We’re just hoping that the courts will help the government fulfill their duty to protect the constitutional rights of individuals, especially the youth, including myself and our other plaintiffs,” Grace Gibson-Snyder, one of the plaintiffs, told the Guardian.

Why This Matters

If the court rules in the plaintiffs’ favor, it could create a legal precedent for similar lawsuits -- and spark others to pursue climate action through the courts. Young people today suffer an "intergenerational inequality" created by climate change. While everyone lives with the consequences of carbon pollution today, kids today will likely live through three times the number of climate disasters than their grandparents did. Last year, every county in Montana experienced drought, and the state had an active wildfire season. Worldwide, over half of young people are "very worried” about climate change and feel betrayed by their governments' inaction. Cases like Held v. State of Montana are one of the many ways young people are taking it upon themselves to change patterns of actions by their governments that created the crisis in the first place.

YOUTH v GOV (official trailer), April 12, 2022.

Greenpeace: Fire Drill Fridays Movie Night with Jane Fonda | YOUTH v GOV, May 4, 2021.

Fossil Fuel Money In Politics

In Montana, fossil fuels also power politics. The state is the sixth-largest coal producer in the US, with six mines and four private plants. It’s also one of the largest consumers of oil and gas. Over the past 20 years, fossil fuel companies have given nearly $450,000 to state campaigns to fund lawmakers who keep power plants running, give financial benefits to the coal industry, and extend regulatory benefits to fossil fuel extraction companies. Since 2003, the state has received nearly $650 million for oil and gas extraction, mostly on public land, the Guardian reports.

The industry is skilled at knowing its allies in the state legislature and then aims to ensure that policy positions that block environmental progress move forward.

"If this is a recurring cycle, where they’re being, in a sense, rewarded for their anti-environmental votes, then you can see how that can pile up where there’s this creation of an incentive to do so over and over across election cycles,” Matthew Goldberg, an associate research scientist at the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, told the Guardian.

Sky News: What you need to know about coal, November 4, 2021.

VICE: The Fossil Fuel Industry Wants You to Think It’s Solving Climate Change, July 14, 2021.

The Climate Pod: How Fossil Fuel Interests Weaponized Economists (With Ben Franta), September 15, 2021.