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VIDEO: The case against Montana and driving toward cleaner air

June 28, 2023

The Week in Sustainability – June 26–30, 2023

Youth tackle environmental policy in Montana

In a landmark civil case, Held v. State of Montana, 16 young individuals have charged that the state’s pro-fossil fuel policies infringe on their constitutional rights. The unique case focuses on the state constitution’s provision that demands maintenance and improvement of a clean environment for present and future generations. The litigation specifically targets the Montana Environmental Policy Act, which effectively excludes global warming from consideration in environmental assessments. 

The core of the legal battle hinges on whether climate change, a global issue, is attributable to Montana. The defense argues that a global problem like climate change cannot be the responsibility of the state. Conversely, the plaintiffs have presented testimonies stating that Montana’s contribution to climate change is both significant and quantifiable, suggesting that the problem is global and local.

In an optimal scenario, the plaintiffs seek the court’s definition of a “safe and healthful environment” where CO2 levels are below 350 parts per million, which could influence all subsequent policies the state implements. While a favorable ruling for the plaintiffs wouldn’t necessarily dictate direct remedial action from the state, it would pressure the Republican-led state legislature and potentially others around the country to uphold similar constitutional provisions. A decision is expected in the next few weeks. 

Clean air = 13.4 million sick days

The American Lung Association released a report titled “Driving to Clean Air,” highlighting the health benefits of renewable energy and electrification, specifically electric vehicles. The report highlights the premature death rates in the U.S.—between 60,000 and 300,000 annually—mainly attributable to air pollution-induced health issues like lung disease, heart disease, and other cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses. What is the most significant contributor to such health-impacting air pollution? Unsurprisingly, it’s transportation and the pervasive use of cars.

The report’s model, which includes goals of 100% electric passenger vehicles by 2035 and 100% electric medium and heavy-duty trucks by 2040, and renewable energy powering the vehicles, anticipates a dramatic decrease in pollution levels. Although these goals are ambitious, they align with national and global policies. If we do manage to hold to those goals, the study says that most pollutants would decrease by 60–90% over 30 years (2020-2050), averting around 100,000 premature deaths and saving 13.4 million sick days. The health-related savings translate to a monetary value of approximately $1.2 trillion, underscoring the broader benefits of addressing climate change.

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1. The Guardian, “Groundbreaking youth-led climate trial comes to an end in Montana,” Accesses June 28, 2023

2. American Lung Association, “Driving to Clean Air,” Accessed June 28, 2023

3. American Lung Association, “Driving to Clean Air: New Report Reveals that a Move to Zero-Emission Cars Would Save Nearly 90,000 Lives,” Accessed June 29, 2023

4. PNAS, “Effects of fossil fuel and total anthropogenic emission removal on public health and climate,” Accessed June 28, 2023

Editorial statement
At Sustain.Life, our goal is to provide the most up-to-date, objective, and research-based information to help readers make informed decisions. Written by practitioners and experts, articles are grounded in research and experience-based practices. All information has been fact-checked and reviewed by our team of sustainability professionals to ensure content is accurate and aligns with current industry standards. Articles contain trusted third-party sources that are either directly linked to the text or listed at the bottom to take readers directly to the source.
Nick Liu-Sontag
Nick Liu-Sontag is a senior manager of sustainability at Sustain.Life. He has over a decade of experience in the sustainability and energy sectors.
Sustain.Life Team
Sustain.Life’s teams of sustainability practitioners and experts often collaborate on articles, videos, and other content.
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