A youth lawsuit is proceeding against Montana for its pro-fossil fuel policies, regarding the rights of young people to an unpolluted future.

16 plaintiffs between the ages of 5 and 22 are represented in a case meant to point a finger at the state’s responsibility to preserve a healthy environment for future generations. The case is challenging Montana’s existing energy policies and lax oversight regulations.

In March, Republican lawmakers repealed the state’s energy policy, which pushed fossil fuels over renewables with financial incentives not to use greener options. According to attorneys by the plaintiffs, the repeal, which has not left anything better in its place, was an attempt to avoid the upcoming lawsuit.

Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen, a Republican, had asked state Judge Kathy Seeley to dismiss any part of the case touching on the canceled energy policy. Attorneys for the state also wanted more time to offer legal arguments over recent amendments to a law that allows officials to ignore greenhouse gas emissions when approving fossil-fuel projects.

Seeley was not moved, and told attorneys on both sides to continue to prepare for imminent trial.

The youth lawsuit was originally filed by attorneys working for the environmental group Our Children’s Trust, which files climate-relevant lawsuits on behalf of young plaintiffs all over the country.

An attorney for the plaintiffs, Philip Gregory, told The Associated Press the policy was repealed by Montana Legislature “not because the state has committed to changing its fossil fuel policy and actions, but because the state seeks to avoid standing trial.”

He said the state’s continued support for fossil fuels violates environmental protections in the Montana Constitution, which says the state “shall maintain and improve a clean and healthful environment in Montana for present and all future generations.”

The state argues that the plaintiffs are resorting to “emotional appeals” about the dangers of climate change, regardless of whether their legal claims have merit. They should have challenged specific laws that allow state agencies to issue permits for fossil fuel projects, said Assistant Attorney General Michael Russell.

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