The Climate Lawyer

Attorney Phil Gregory J.D./MBA ’80 headed back to court to fight on behalf of young people for the right to a better environment.

Something quietly huge happened in a Montana courtroom this summer. A judge ruled that a “clean and healthful environment” is a protected human right in the state’s constitution—and that state laws that fail to account for the climate impacts of fossil fuels violate the rights of Montanans.

It was a big win for climate activists, specifically the 16 young people ranging in age from 5 to 22 who brought the case, and for attorney Phil Gregory J.D./MBA ’80.

Gregory represented the plaintiffs, who argued the state’s environmental policy act that bars regulators from considering the environmental impacts of energy projects protects powerful industries over people.

climate trapped in a crystal ball. Photo by Adobe Stock.
Court cases over the climate are on the rise but youth-led lawsuits in particular are typically dismissed. The Montana youth had an advantage, because their state’s constitution guarantees a right to a clean environment.Photo courtesy Adobe Stock.

This wasn’t Gregory’s first time in court fighting for the planet. In 2015, he served as co-lead counsel for Juliana v. United States in which nearly two dozen youth argued the federal government was violating their right to life, liberty, and property through its actions—and inaction—contributing to climate change.

(SCM covered the so-called “Most Important Lawsuit on the Planet” in its Fall 2017 issue; after repeated setbacks, the case is back on the path for trial.)

Climate activists hope the Montana ruling will empower more people to fight for their future through the courts. “There are political decisions being made without regard to the best scientific evidence and the effects they will have on our youngest generations,” Gregory told the Washington Post. “This is a monumental decision.”

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