Bill would bar regulators from considering greenhouse gases when issuing permits
Montana lawmakers held a hearing on a bill that could prevent state regulators from considering greenhouse gas emissions when issuing permits.
The bill was introduced last week as lawmakers suspended their rules to advance the policy in response to a recent court ruling halting construction of a natural gas plant in Laurel.
District Court Judge Michael Moses ordered the withdrawal of the air quality permit for Northwestern Energy's natural gas plant and said state regulators needed to consider the project's impact on greenhouse gas emissions.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Josh Kassmier, from Fort Benton, says that was an overreach.
“Montana has not enacted carbon regulations. Yet, despite the clear direction, the court have decided that MEPA is now a tool for regulation of carbon,” Kassmier said.
House Bill 971 says the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) would not have to consider climate change when assessing environmental impacts on a proposed project through the Montana Environmental Policy Act (MEPA).
Leo Barry is a lawyer from Helena and one of the bill's 10 supporters that spoke during its first public hearing. He said consideration of climate change is an international issue and not the responsibility of Montana.
“I thought the language was pretty clear at the time that it excluded an evaluation of climate change or global warming, and that should be left to Congress,” Barry said.
Aaron Felder, one of the 60 opponents that spoke against the bill, lives within view of the facility being constructed along the Yellowstone River in Laurel.
“If DEQ isn't required to evaluate these issues in the MEPA analysis, there will be no no way for the public to know about the problems and comment on them,” Felder said.