The Kids Are Telling the Polluters: “We’ll See You in Court!”

Photo of the sixteen plaintiffs in Held v. State of Montana, Youth v. Gov website.

We’re not hearing a whole lot about them yet, but we will. These young people don’t see their elders doing what’s necessary to remove the blight on their future. So they are stepping up with action—legal action.

In beautiful, wide open Montana, sixteen youths sued the state and specific state agencies in 2020 for policies that contributed to climate change and violated their constitutional rights, including the right to a “clean and healthful environment.” And their case is going to trial.

This is the first youth constitutional climate case to reach trial status.

Here’s what it says:

“Defendants have developed and implemented a State Energy Policy in Montana for decades, which involves systemic authorization, permitting, encouragement, and facilitation of activities promoting fossil fuels and resulting in dangerous levels of (greenhouse gas) emissions, without regard to climate change impacts or the fundamental rights of Youth Plaintiffs and future generations of Montanans.”

One of the plaintiffs is a young woman named Ricki Held, whose family suffered significant financial loss (and probably great alarm) when a wildfire damaged their farm in 2012. Several cattle died, and the family spent a month without electricity.

Held was 18 when she filed the lawsuit that bears her name–Held v. State of Montana; her 15 fellow plaintiffs range from ages two to 18. (OK; so there’s a bit of exploitation involved, but the parents surely signed on!)

Another plaintiff is Grace Gibson-Snyder of Missoula, Montana, who was interviewed last year by CBS News. (Much of the information in this post stems from that article.)

She and her family celebrate each of her birthdays exploring an area of Yellowstone National Park that she called her “favorite place” and said “I don’t want it to go away.”

But last June, dreadful flooding in just that area caused the evacuation of tourists and the temporary closing of the park. Gibson-Snyder told her interviewer that

“the state’s reliance on fossil fuels, its energy policy, its continued development of fossil fuel extraction has all led to exasperated (sic) effects of climate change. It’s a betrayal by the government.”

The kids have cited medical conditions–such as aggravated asthma, irritated eyes and throats, and headaches–associated with the air pollution resulting from the worsening fire seasons. They also point to emotional distress from their worries about the deteriorating climate.

(For a brief video of Grace speaking about the forthcoming trial, go to and scroll down.)

Comparable legislation has been filed by children in Virginia, Hawaii, and Utah. The kids are represented by Our Children’s Trust, a nonprofit law firm. One of its attorneys, Nate Bellinger, said young people contact his firm all the time.

Bellinger told the interviewer their actions aren’t surprising.

“They have the most at stake and the most to lose and they are the least politically powerful group. The courts offer them an opportunity to have some of that power to do something to protect their own futures.”

Our Children’s Trust attorneys aren’t fazed by last year’s Supreme Court ruling that curtailed the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. It won’t affect lawsuits filed against state governments, they say.

There has been, predictably, backlash by states in which Our Children’s Trust litigation has been pursued. Seventeen of them, including Montana, joined in opposition to a lawsuit that a federal court threw out in 2020, which the plaintiffs sought to refile. That lawsuit, Juliana v. the United States, was filed in 2015 and became the basis for an award-winning film titled Youth v. Gov that appeared on Netflix.

Most judges have reasoned that such cases should be decided by legislative or executive action–not by the courts.

But the judge who permitted the Montana case to proceed decided the question of whether the state’s actions are actually causing climate change worthy of litigation.

It’s worth noting that the Montana State Supreme Court found in 1999 that the state constitution “means what it says,” reported a Missoula, Montana, newspaper: living in a “clean and healthful environment” is a “fundamental right.”

That unanimous ruling stated:

“Our constitution does not require that dead fish float on the surface of our state’s rivers and streams before its farsighted environmental protections can be invoked.”

What happens next?

According to Our Children’s Trust website:

“The plaintiffs and their attorneys are continuing to gather evidence and prepare for trial. This historic trial – the first ever constitutional climate trial and first ever children’s climate trial in U.S. history – will begin on Monday, June 12, 2023, at the First Judicial District Court in Helena, Montana and conclude Friday, June 23, 2023.”

This trial bears watching. Regardless of its outcome, I am pleased, proud, and hopeful to see young people using the levers of government to address real needs that profoundly affect them–as well as the rest of us.


23 thoughts on “The Kids Are Telling the Polluters: “We’ll See You in Court!”

  1. Interesting story Annie. Young people definitely give me hope but it’s important for us to stand behind them. I’m hoping that after decades of the mighty dollar winning battle after battle that the pendulum is starting to swing in the other direction, putting our futures in the hands of politicians that will work on behalf of the people instead of big business.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I see hope through my admittedly partisan lens, Carol. In the Ohio train disaster, I heard Gov. Mike DeWine say that President Biden had called him early on to ask if the federal govt could help. DeWine told reporters he hadn’t called him back bc he didn’t see the need. Then the cries of his beleaguered constituents awakened him. And now the EPA is being criticized for the delay in acting.

      It looks like the old issues of regulation and corporate responsibility are at the center here—just as in Montana. Surely an aroused citizenry can see where their interests can be served !? And Court reform at all levels has assumed greater importance.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Children aren’t supposed to be fighting for the right to breathe clean air. Children are supposed to be outside climbing trees and getting skinned knees 😔 I am grateful for what they are doing, and a little (a lot) ashamed that my generation was so complacent. We need to support them in any way we can. It’s the least we can do…

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I agree, Patti. But it’s multiple generations of refusing/ignoring responsibility. And still the fight against sensible regulations persists—with a majority on the Supreme Court, whose rulings on such issues are attuned to the dark money interests to an astonishing degree.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This is definitely encouraging! I’m a big fan of Greta Thunberg and have long believed that the young people will ultimately be the ones to take the steps needed to try to save life on Planet Earth! Good for these young people!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hope has a very short shelf life and rapidly succumbs to despair. Litigation is a labyrinth which by design solves a lot of problems through attrition. I believe we are at a point where the crisis will become so acute that immediate action will be required. This lawsuit will still be in litigation.
    Again IMO the lawyers would be better used by pensioners to take over management of their various funds and direct the investments away from fossil fuels. Just quicker since it Is the children that will deal with the problem and it’s very clear consequences.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a fine idea, Richard. I have heard of unsuccessful efforts by stockholders to do good, but I haven’t heard of successes. I’d happily join such an effort. (We have given our fund managers instructions not to invest in fossil fuels or gun-related companies, but to invest in green energy.)

      Liked by 1 person

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