Can Individuals Sue State Governments For Using Fossil Fuels Because They Have a Right to a “Healthy Environment”?
This summer, a group of citizens in Montana sued their state government for allegedly violating the state constitution, which guarantees a resident’s right to a “clean and healthful environment.” They argued that the state should not be allowed to pursue fossil fuel development without considering its impact on greenhouse gas emissions. The state judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, opening the possibility that citizens in other states may do the same.
Those who argue that individuals have standing to sue their states over fossil fuel use argue that carbon emissions pose a serious threat to the environment. This side contends that our current and future generations have a right to a healthy environment that the government must protect. They argue that lawsuits against the government can be one of the best ways to limit fossil fuels. They may contend that climate change poses too great of a risk to allow for voluntary changes either by individuals, corporations, or the state government itself through the legislative process, and that instead the courts can provide an efficient solution.
Those who argue that individuals can’t sue their states over fossil fuel use argue that no right to a healthy environment exists. They contend that this is not a natural right that the government was created to protect. They claim that it puts immense responsibility on the state government to keep the environment in immaculate condition. They argue that activities in an individual state emit a miniscule amount of greenhouse gases, and that the government therefore is not violating its constitutional obligations for not having strict oversights over fossil fuels. They may also contend that we as a society should strive to have a healthy environment through the self-governing process, and should individuals want their state to have greater oversight, they should push their elected officials to make changes to policy through legislation rather than using lawsuits over perceived violations of rights.
So, what do you think? Can Individuals Sue State Governments For Using Fossil Fuels Because They Have a Right to a “Healthy Environment”? Students can answer Yes, they can; No, they can’t; or a nuanced answer in between! Be sure to submit your answers by October 19th to be considered for this week’s contest.