Guest Column

Right On, Climate Youth! 

State energy policies and laws do undeniably violate their Constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment

By Mary Ann Dunwell

Those brave young plaintiffs in the upcoming climate case of the century and our last best hope for climate action in the “Last Best Place” have a winning legal argument in their battle for climate justice. Indeed, state energy policies and laws do undeniably violate their Constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment. In fact, their case is stronger than ever after this past environmental disaster of the 2023 legislative session.  

Now, more than ever, state energy policies and laws favor the polluters and violate our Montana Constitution. Not to mention, now, there’s a 3-1 Republican-Democrat, partisan makeup of the Legislative Consumer Committee that works with the Montana Consumer Counsel (MCC) to protect the interests of ratepayers in energy rate cases. As a Democratic legislator who was just booted off Consumer Committee, it’ll be interesting to watch how much, or how little, MCC will be able to protect ratepayers moving forward. Also, the Energy and Telecommunications Interim Committee that makes or breaks environmentally protective energy laws is now weighted partisan majority.  

To the youth climate defenders, hats off! The rest of us should file a lawsuit against our Republican majority legislature for violating its Constitutional responsibility that legislators work to uphold our clean and healthful environment guarantee and allow Montanans to do the same, not tie our hands. 

Under the Environmental and Natural Resources part of our state Constitution, Article IX Section 1—Protection and Improvement states,  

“(1) The state and each person shall maintain and improve a clean and healthful environment in Montana for present and future generations… 

“(2) The legislature shall provide for the administration and enforcement of this duty…  

“(3) The legislature shall provide adequate remedies for the protection of the environmental life support system from degradation and provide adequate remedies to prevent unreasonable depletion and degradation of natural resources.” 

The Republican majority legislature arrogantly shirked its Constitutional responsibility. It passed bills that do just the opposite, despite the countless, strong, dissenting voices of Montanans and opposition votes by Democratic legislators. Go climate youth! 

Mary Ann Dunwell is a Democratic state senator representing Helena. 

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.