Republican lawmakers in Montana have passed legislation that prohibits state agencies from considering climate change when authorizing major projects that require environmental reviews, including coal mines and power plants. Gov. Greg Gianforte signed the bill into law last week, marking what could be considered the nation’s most aggressive anti-climate law.
Under Bill 971, Amanda Eggert reports for the Montana Free Press, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality and other state regulators cannot consider greenhouse gas emissions and climate impacts when conducting environmental reviews for large projects. The decision builds on a decade-old state law that already prohibited the state from considering “actual or potential impacts that are regional, national, or global in nature” in such reviews.
The law comes as a Montana judge assesses a case brought by 16 young plaintiffs who are suing the state government over its fossil fuel-friendly energy policies, which they say violate their right to a ‘clean and healthy environment. as guaranteed by the 50-year-old constitution. The hearing for this case is expected to begin next month.
Supporters of Montana’s new law, including its sponsor, Rep. Josh Kassmier, argued the legislation was needed to restore policy-setting authority to state lawmakers after a judge district revoked license in April for a natural gas power plant project that state regulators had already approved.
But the measure was met with fierce opposition from environmentalists, who accused the Republican-led Montana Legislature of “hiding their heads in the sand” and argued that the majority of Montanese believe in man-made climate change and want to take meaningful action to address it. he. A 2022 poll conducted by Colorado College found that nearly 60% of Montana residents believe in climate change and want to address it, including by switching to renewable energy. Of the more than 1,000 comments submitted by local residents on House Bill 971, 95% opposed it.
“Our families are already suffering from an increase in sweltering summer days, longer wildfire and smoke seasons, and historic drought,” said Winona Bateman, executive director of Families for a Livable Climate. , at the Montana Free Press. “I don’t know how Governor Gianforte imagines we will do our part to address these growing impacts, or pay for them, if we don’t work to eliminate the root cause.”
Montana’s climate has changed significantly over the past century, according to the environmental protection agency, leading to a melting of snow packs earlier in the year, more frequent heat waves and an increased risk of wildfires. In fact, Montana itself 2015 climate report found that the state’s annual average temperatures increased between 2 and 3 degrees Fahrenheit from 1950 to 2015, with winter and spring temperatures increasing by 3.9 degrees. This report also found that between 1951 and 2010, the state’s average winter precipitation decreased by about an inch, and the number of days exceeding 90 degrees Fahrenheit in any given year increased by an average of 11. .
But despite these impacts, Montana Republicans have fought relentlessly to thwart policies that could threaten the bottom line of the state’s coal, oil and gas companies. The Treasure State, a nickname referring to the wealth of minerals found in the mountains of Montana, including coal, has long benefited from a thriving fossil fuel industry. The Bakken Formation, one of the largest onshore oil and gas fields in the United States, lies partly in eastern Montana. The state also contains the largest recoverable coal reserves in the United States, with six coal mines still in operation and nearly half of the state’s electricity coming from coal-fired power plants.
Several state GOP lawmakers also have close ties to the fossil fuel industry. Montana Rep. Gary Parry, a member of the House Natural Resources Committee, and recently retired state senator Duane Ankney worked in the coal industry before taking office. US Representative Ryan Zinke, the Republican from Montana who served as Interior Secretary under former President Donald Trump, was also a member of the board of directors of pipeline company QS Energy before helping facilitate development oil and gas on federal lands for the Trump administration.
Yet the bill Governor Greg Gianforte signed into law last week could set a new precedent for anti-climate policy. Not from North Carolina passed its 2012 law, which prohibited government agencies from using anything other than historical sea level rise data when crafting development policy, has a state legislature so aggressively sought to stifle modern climate science . By the time the North Carolina law was passed, opponents had successfully weakened it, so agencies were no longer allowed to consider scientific climate projections. For four years. Montana’s law contains no such amendments and extends to all climate-related impacts, not just sea level rise.
Several other red states have introduced or passed laws that also limit government consideration of climate change, but primarily in public education and investment. Texas pass a law which prohibits the state from doing business with financial companies that have divested from fossil fuel companies for climate reasons, state lawmakers now hope extend this ban to climate-conscious insurance companies. Almost two dozen red states have taken or are considering similar actions.
Ohio Republican Legislators plan to legislate it would force colleges to teach “both sides” of the debate about the reality of human-caused climate change, despite the fact that 99.9% of the scientific literature agrees that burning fossil fuels accelerates warming climate at an unprecedented rate. Tennessee and Louisiana have already passed similar laws.
North Carolina law could also conflict with federal policy, including the The recent EPA draft rule this would force coal-fired power plants, as well as some natural gas plants, to use new technologies to capture 90% of their carbon emissions by 2038.
In a statement to Montana Free Press, Gianforte spokeswoman Kaitlin Price said the new law would allow state agencies to analyze greenhouse gas emissions “if required by federal law. or if Congress amends the Clean Air Act to include carbon dioxide as a regulated pollutant.” But Congress did just that last year, when it passed the Cut Inflation Act, which amended Title VI of the Clean Air Act to include new sections on clean vehicles, greenhouse gas emissions and port pollution.
“There is a tapestry that is woven into the fabric of the Clean Air Act under this legislation that makes it very clear that it is the EPA’s responsibility to address climate pollution,” Vickie Patton, General Counsel of the non-profit environmental defense association Environmental Defense Fund, says Bloomberg Law. This includes “greenhouse gases or air pollutants”.