BILLINGS — The Montana Supreme Court on Wednesday denied a petition filed by attorneys seeking new regulations to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
Siding with Attorney General Steve Bullock, justices wrote in Wednesday's order that the case raised too many questions about Montana's contribution to a global problem for a ruling on purely legal questions as sought by the plaintiffs.
"The court is ill-equipped to resolve the factual assertions presented by the petitioners," justices wrote.
Justices also rejected the plaintiffs' claim that the matter was too urgent to wait for action by a lower court that could then be subject to a lengthy appeal.
The petition filed in May was part of a new legal strategy by activists trying to force government intervention on climate change by having the atmosphere designated as a "public trust" deserving special protection. Similar lawsuits and regulatory petitions were filed by attorneys representing youths nationwide.
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.
The Montana suit was filed on behalf by a group of trial attorneys representing youths who wanted the court to compel state officials to come up with new regulations for greenhouse gases.
One of those attorneys, Amy Eddy of Kalispell, said the group was disappointed in the order and was considering its next steps.
"It is clear the Supreme Court simply wanted to avoid deciding this issue at all costs," Eddy said in an email to The Associated Press. "Unfortunately, this exposes the state to protracted and costly litigation, which the court will have to rule on anyway at the end of the day."
Bullock last month asked the court to reject the petition. A group of conservative state legislators and other elected officials had sought to intervene in opposition, claiming a ruling that established an atmospheric trust would "sidestep" the legislature's role in crafting public policy.