Blair Miller

(Daily Montanan) The State of Montana filed notice with the state Supreme Court that it will appeal a district court’s decision in the Held vs. Montana case that affirmed Montanans’ constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment.

The notice of appeal from the state came about two weeks after Lewis and Clark County District Court Judge Kathy Seeley on Sept. 18 certified her Aug. 14 findings in the case, as well as several other orders she made before and after the trial.

The state and the other named defendants in the case – Gov. Greg Gianforte, the Department of Environmental Quality, Department of Natural Resources and Conservation and Department of Transportation – provided the Supreme Court notice on Friday and Monday of its intent to appeal Seeley’s August order in the case as well as some of her past orders denying the state’s requests to dismiss parts of the case.

Seeley sided with the 16 youth plaintiffs in the case, finding that the limitation to the Montana Environmental Policy Act that limited the ability of the state to consider greenhouse gas emissions and climate impacts when reviewing permit applications was unconstitutional.

At the time, a spokesperson for the Attorney General’s Office called the ruling “absurd” and said the trial was “a weeklong taxpayer-funded publicity stunt.” The spokesperson also called Seeley “an ideological judge who bent over backward to allow the case to move forward and earn herself a spot in their next documentary.”

Seeley found that the plaintiffs had standing in the case, that their rights under the state constitution had been violated by the state, and that the evidence from trial “conclusively demonstrated that Youth Plaintiffs’ injuries increase and compound each passing day,” as she wrote in her Sept. 18 order granting certification of her prior orders so the appeal can proceed.

The plaintiffs in the case will be able to file a notice of cross-appeal, and the Supreme Court will decide whether to take the case upon appeal, which it is expected to do.

Both sides and Judge Seeley agreed that the issue of attorneys’ fees and costs would not be decided until after the Supreme Court rules on the appeal. Seeley wrote in the Sept. 18 filing certifying her prior orders that doing so would lead to a swift adjudication of the merits of the case and that costs and fees could be decided afterward.

“The parties argue that, given the pressing fundamental constitutional issues of statewide concern presented here, and after a balancing of the competing factors, it is in the interest of sound judicial administration and public policy for the court to certify these orders as final for purposes of interlocutory appeal,” Seeley wrote.

Further, she wrote, there are other cases pending before the Supreme Court “that present overlapping legal questions and related issues” that a resolution of the Held appeal could benefit from.

In addition to ongoing cases concerning MEPA, the Department of Environmental Quality will kick off the first of at least three listening sessions Monday night in Billings discussing possible changes to MEPA in the wake of Seeley’s decision in the case.

Seeley said that her prior orders are “on a range of constitutional issues and questions which are of crucial environmental, economic, and social import,” and said she agreed that the court should consider the appeal without delay.

“The court recognizes that a broad array of stakeholders have an interest in the expeditious consideration of the merits of this case by the Montana Supreme Court so Montanans have certainty as to the nature of the constitutional rights and the state has clarity and guidance as to the nature and extent of its constitutional obligations,” Seeley wrote.