HELENA — The attorney general's office asked the Montana Supreme Court on Monday to reject a climate lawsuit that seeks to force regulation of greenhouse gases, as a group of conservative state lawmakers said they want to intervene in the case.
The developments followed a lawsuit, among other legal actions, filed last month by environmental groups in Montana and other states as part of a plan to force government intervention on climate change. Their goal is to have the atmosphere declared a "public trust" deserving special protection.
The Republicans said earlier Monday they wanted to intervene because they didn't believe that Attorney General Steve Bullock, a Democrat, would forcefully defend against the lawsuit. Bullock's office asked the court to reject environmentalists' claims that the court should get involved in the climate change argument.
Bullock's office had called the Republican attempt to shoehorn into the lawsuit "silly political games."
The attorney general's court filing agreed with the Republicans that the lawsuit should not be granted original jurisdiction with the high court. It argued that the issues should be debated at the Legislature, under agency oversight or perhaps though a lawsuit filed at the district court level.
It said "the claims are not constitutionally based, involve fact-intensive questions, and are not exigent to the point of making the normal appeal process inadequate," the attorney general's office said.
Any lawsuit would need district court review to first establish many issues, including "the role of Montana in the global problem of climate change and how emissions created in Montana ultimately affect Montana's climate and whether the benefits of energy production must be balanced against the potential harm of climate change," Bullock's office argued.
Republican state Rep. Kreyton Kerns of Laurel, part of the group of Republican lawmakers who want the Supreme Court to move the case back to district court for discovery on the claims being made, said he would have to review the attorney general's filing before saying whether he feels it is forceful enough.
"The whole climate change con would be laughable if it wouldn't be devastating. It's going to wipe us out," he said. "This state is sitting on some of the largest fossil fuel reserves in the world, and we will just be sitting on them if we can't develop them."
The lawmakers were joined by other groups and citizens, and the list of interveners included some children they argued had a stake in the debate.
The original lawsuit seeking regulation of greenhouse gasses was itself filed on behalf of youths. It argued that climate change is caused by humans, and that the courts need to limit the greenhouse gasses since political efforts to do so have failed.
Advocates involved in the lawsuits filed around the country have said a victory in even one or two cases would give environmentalists leverage, leading to new regulations to rein in greenhouse gas emissions that scientists say are driving global temperatures higher.
Randy Bishop, one of the attorneys who filed the Montana lawsuit, said the motion to intervene misses the legal question presented to the court. He said the court is only being asked if atmospheric quality should be held in public trust, just like water quality, so that regulatory agencies can investigate, absent legislative intervention, whether restrictions are needed.
"This petition asks the Supreme Court to decide whether our Constitution's guarantee of a clean and healthful environment requires those who want to obstruct the process to stand aside, so that the responsible administrative agencies can finally get started on this urgent work," Bishop said in a statement. "This is the only way Montanans can be assured that the political discussions to follow will be informed by facts that are reliable and complete."