Public Trust Climate Change Lawsuit Strikes Out in Montana


The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule any day now on the climate change public nuisance case in AEP v. Connecticut, in the meantime the State Supreme Court of Montana has dealt a blow to a separate lawsuit that sought to order the state to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the public trust doctrine. The Montana Supreme Court in a three-page order issued June 15 denied a petition by Montana children asking the Court to exercise its original jurisdiction. Although similar cases are pending in eight other jurisdictions, the Montana case was the only one seeking to sidestep the trial court level entirely and have a state's highest appellate court rule. The Montana Petitioners' case was a long-shot to begin with and the justices let very little time pass before denying the petition. Even so, the narrow, procedural grounds for the Montana ruling should not adversely affect the remaining public trust cases, nor should the U.S. Supreme Court's eventual ruling in AEP.

Atmospheric Trust Litigation

The public trust cases, organized by a non-profit called Our Children's Trust, were filed in May in state courts in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington and in a federal court in northern California. Each case is brought by or on behalf of children living in those jurisdictions. The complaints allege that the respective states are trustees of the atmosphere for the benefit of their present and future citizens and that the states have an affirmative duty to establish and enforce limits on GHG emissions to mitigate human-caused climate change. Similar claims are being made in regulatory petitions in 39 other states.

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