Should citizens in the United States have a constitutional right to clean air and clean water, just as they have rights to free speech and freedom of religion? That’s the broad question raised by a court decision in Montana last month.
In a ruling that is sure to reverberate around the country, the Montana Supreme Court held that the state’s constitution guarantees all Montanans a fundamental right to a “clean and healthful environment” and protects the state’s resources from potential harm as well as from actual, proven damage.
“Our constitution does not require that dead fish float on the surface of our state’s rivers and streams before its farsighted environmental protections can be invoked,” wrote Justice Terry Trieweiler on behalf of the court.
No other court in the country has recognized such a profound right or given it such a powerful meaning.
Montanans approved the right to a clean and healthful environment in a 1972 rewrite of the state’s constitution. For 27 years that provision has lain dormant, however, awaiting an ... Read more