BILLINGS — Montana is making headlines this week as the Held vs. Montana trial is underway in Helena. It's the first lawsuit alleging a state's failure to prevent environmental deterioration due to climate change to reach trial in U.S. history, according to CBS News.
On Monday, opening statements were heard before state district court Judge Kathy Seely, and the courtroom was packed with those both in support of and against the cause.
Michael Russell, Montana's assistant attorney general, argued in court that Montana's greenhouse-gas emissions are too small to make a difference in the global climate.
The plaintiffs' attorney, Roger Sullivan, argued that Montana's constitution guarantees citizens the right to "a clean and healthful environment, for present and future generations."
Rikki Held, the now-22-year-old who spearheaded the trial, also spoke in court on Monday.
"I know that climate change is a global issue, but Montana needs to take responsibility for our part," Held said. "You can't just blow it off and do nothing about it."
Sixteen young Montanans are leading the charge as plaintiffs. And other Montanans feel inspired by the youth leading the battle.
“They are taking a stand at such a young age to fight for their right to enjoy the same things that their ancestors, grandparents, and parents, are able to," said supporter Tyrene Riedl on Wednesday. "We do see every year, more and more changes from a climate perspective that is risking that guarantee of a clean and healthy environment that is written into our state constitution."
Riedl works for Gardiner-based Yellowstone Wild. To the tour company, last year's flooding signaled climate change kicking down Montana's door and inspired new practices to combat its effects. The company now only brings food in reusable containers and composts or recycles any leftovers.
"We’ve always taken an approach of being gentle with our environment. But I will also say that we can always be doing better,” Riedl said. “Some of the ways that we’ve looked at doing that beyond the obvious is looking a little bit more deeply at the fact that every single thing we do has an impact somehow."
Seeing this week's events in Helena, Riedl is feeling proud.
"I’m proud of these kids. I think it’s great, it’s really inspiring to see them taking action,” Riedl said. “Without a doubt, Montanans love the land."
It's a shared feeling among Montana environmentalists.
"Hearing the testimony from the youth, they’re just so inspiring, eloquent, my heart just goes out to them,” said Cari Kimball, the executive director of the Montana Environmental Information Center (MEIC). "We just are so proud of the youth and inspired by them. It warms our hearts to see these young folks who care and are making their voices heard. Just super thankful to them."
MEIC is a Montana-based nonprofit environmental group that has a member testifying in the trial.
"Our mission hinges on the right to a clean and healthful environment," Kimball said.
The trial is set to conclude on June 23 with eyes around the world watching, including several right in our backyard.
"We support these kids 100% in what they are doing. The constitution does read that we have a right to a clean and healthy environment," Riedl said. "I love and support the efforts of the next generations. That’s what this park is here for, forever generations."