Coalition says Mont. AG not representing its interests

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Jun 7, 2011


HELENA, Mont. (Legal Newsline) - A coalition of non-profit groups and state lawmakers have filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit before the Montana Supreme Court that looks to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

The following groups and legislators filed their 12-page motion with the Court Friday: The Climate Physics Institute, a Montana non-profit association; Western Montana Fish and Game Association Inc., a Montana non-profit association; Rep. Krayton Kerns; Sen. Jason Priest; Rep. Champ Edmunds; Rep. Mike Miller; Rep. Cary Smith; Rep. Jerry O'Neil; Rep. James Knox; Rep. Tom Burnett; Rep. Keith Regier; Rep. Dan Skattum; Rep. Alan Hale; Rep. Matt Rosendale; Rep. Dan Salomon; Rep. Lee Randall; Sen. Greg Hinkle; Sen. Joe Balyeat; Sen. Verdell Jackson; Sen. Ed Walker; Sen. Chas Vincent; Sen. Bruce Tutvedt; Rep. Joe Reid; and Rep. Mike Cuff.

The petitioners in the case -- described as "Montana children of diverse backgrounds" in court documents -- have filed a petition for original jurisdiction in the Supreme Court. They seek a judgment declaring that the State has "an affirmative duty" to "enforce limitations on the levels of greenhouse gas emissions as necessary to mitigate human caused climate change."

The intervenors argue that the facts of the petition are presented as if a record has been made in a trial court, establishing an absence of any contested evidence. "Of course, no such proceedings have been had, and there is no 'consensus' that human activity is effecting the world's historically-ever-changing climate," they wrote.

Still, the petitioners contend that the questions of whether the atmosphere is part of the "constitutionally protected public trust" in Montana and whether the State has an affirmative obligation to protect that trust resource -- including regulation of GHG emissions -- are purely legal issues and are appropriate for resolution.

"Petitioners ask the Court to impose on the public the monumental cost of curtailing human-caused carbon gas emissions in order to arrest changes in the global atmosphere," the non-profit groups and lawmakers wrote.

"Thus, Petitioners argue, since the 'political branches' of State government -- those most directly responsive to the people -- have not been persuaded that such real-world costs are worth their speculative benefits, the judicial branch must intercede and impose the will of a minority."

The coalition says a declaration from the Court that the State has a duty to stop carbon gas emissions would be "devastating" to Montana's economy.

"Intervenors' livelihoods, as well as other environmental and stewardship values into which they invest their finite personal resources, will suffer. The reduction in economic activity due to carbon restrictions will also impair State tax revenue, and leave the 'political branches' less able to husband the many other natural resources with which Montana is so abundantly blessed," it wrote.

The intervenors also contend that the State -- that is, Attorney General Steve Bullock -- will not adequately represent their interests.

"Attorney General Bullock is himself an advocate for the very relief sought by Petitioners," they wrote. "During the political campaign, General Bullock used TerraPass to purchase offsets for carbon emissions from his campaign travel."

The groups and lawmakers point to one of Bullock's press releases when he was campaigning for the office.

"Steve Bullock understands the importance of a healthy environment and is the proud new owner of a TerraPass," his campaign said in the release.

"Getting to every county in a state as big as Montana means putting some miles in on the road. The impact of all that driving is more than just sore eyes and an aching back. That's why I decided to offset my carbon emissions for this campaign by purchasing a TerraPass," Bullock said at the time.

He continued, "This is a small gesture, but it's an important one. We all need to do our part to be good stewards of the natural heritage that is so much a part of who we are as Montanans."

The intervenors also point to a campaign white paper in which Bullock solemnly promised to "use the Attorney General's authority to protect and promote the constitutional promise of a clean and healthful environment."

"In other words, if he abides by the promises he made in his campaign, General Bullock can only consent to the relief requested in the Petition," the groups and lawmakers wrote.

The intervenors ask the Court that their motion be granted and that they be allowed to appear and be heard in opposition to the pending petition.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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