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051511 global warming lawsuit
Bente Bechtold, 10, is among 16 children and parents who have filed a lawsuit with the Montana Supreme Court to order the state to set and enforce limits on greenhouse gases. Behind Bente at left is her father, Tim Bechtold, who is also a plaintiff, and Missoula attorney Tom Beers, who is representing the Bechtolds. Photo by TOM BAUER/Missoulian

A lawsuit challenging the state of Montana to fight climate change on behalf of generations to come has advanced a step, with the Montana Supreme Court ordering the state to respond.

The petition filed by parents and children from across the state seeks to include the Earth's atmosphere as part of the "public trust," as are many waters. The suit aims to force the state to set and enforce limits on greenhouse gases.

It's part of a nationwide movement coordinated by the Oregon-based nonprofit group Our Children's Trust to file such suits in all 50 states. There's a federal suit as well.

The Montana petition was filed directly to the state Supreme Court on May 4, with petitioners contending the matter is too urgent for the lengthy process of moving through the lower courts.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court gave the state 20 days to respond.

"We're obviously pleased because under the rules, they (the Supreme Court) can reject it. This way, they said, ‘Let's at least hear what the attorney general has to say about it,' " said Tom Beers, a Missoula attorney who's among the six lawyers filing the suit on behalf of 18 parents, young people and children.

The idea behind Our Children's Trust is that those youngsters will have to live with the effects of climate change. The young people involved in Montana's suit range from toddlers to their early 20s.

"What the state has been asked to do by the court is a very narrow question of legal procedure: whether the Supreme Court has original jurisdiction in this type of litigation," Kevin O'Brien, spokesman for state Attorney General Steve Bullock, said on Wednesday.

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"We'll respond to the court in a timely matter, but it would be premature to comment before filing our brief," he said.

Reporter Gwen Florio can be reached at 523-5268, gwen.florio@missoulian.com, or CopsAndCourts.com.

 

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