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What is Montana's Climate Action Plan all about?

Montana Capitol
Shaylee Ragar
Montana Capitol

State environmental regulators are in the process of writing up a statewide Climate Action Plan. Once completed, it will make Montana eligible to apply for millions in federal funding to address climate pollution.

The deadline for the public to comment on what they’d like to see included is this week. Austin Amestoy sat down with reporter Ellis Juhlin to learn more about the plan, and how it compares to previous climate adaptation efforts.

Austin: Ellis, a “Climate Action Plan” for the whole state of Montana sounds like a big deal. So… *is it a big deal? What is this all about?

Ellis: Last year Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality got 3 million dollars from the federal government to draft a Climate Action Plan.

This is part of broader climate change mitigation efforts tied into a huge piece of federal legislation, the Inflation Reduction Act. Montana’s actually one of 46 states that are in the process of making these plans, as well as tribes across the country.

The Chippewa Cree, Northern Cheyenne, Blackfeet and Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes are all drafting similar plans.

Austin: Alright, that does read like a big deal. We’ve talked a few times, Ellis, about climate change, adaptation plans the state has made to deal with climate change – how is this plan different?

Yes that’s a great question, the state has had plans before but they were all shelved and haven’t driven large policy changes.

You can think of them more like wish-lists while this plan is a bit more like a checklist.

And it comes with the promise of federal money. It’s really a roadmap to funding climate change projects through federal dollars.

States have until March 1 to submit their list to the federal government and then they have a month to request that federal funding. DEQ released Montana’s draft plan last week and is taking public input until February 15

Austin: Alright, so we have an idea of the state’s priorities for climate action, based on this draft plan – what are some highlights?

Ellis: The projects and goals in the plan are grouped into 5 major sections: forests, schools, homes and businesses, waste management, and industrial power innovation.

These all address what DEQ has identified as major sources of pollution in Montana. State officials are also outlining projects within these categories they could break ground on quickly - should they get that federal funding.

Austin: Do you have a sense of how Montana’s approach to this Climate Action Plan compares to other states’?

We’ll learn more about what other states are doing in the coming months as plans are released.

In Montana, while Governor Greg Gianforte acknowledges climate change is real, his office doesn’t want it getting in the way of economic development or creating new regulations, like incentivizing electric vehicles or clean energy development.

And Gianforte isn’t the only official that’s wary of the state taking a more hands on approach to allocating resources towards climate change. Conservative lawmakers like Republican Representative Paul Fielder recently questioned DEQ about why this plan was needed.

“I’m against the whole process of saying we’re going to fight climate change with public dollars because I don’t believe in the hoax of climate change” Fielder said.

To be clear, climate change is not a hoax. The earth's average temperature is rising and humans play a big role in the changing climate.

Other criticism of the state’s plan has come from clean energy advocates who are concerned about the emphasis on uncertain technology like carbon capture.

Austin: I’m thinking about those five broad topic areas in the plan – will DEQ be carrying out all of those projects itself? Or can other interested groups get in on the action?

Ellis: Great question, and yeah, the state definitely won’t be on its own. Although DEQ is the author of Montana’s plan, it is taking public input and trying to incorporate some projects proposed by groups outside of state government.

Like the Montana Smart Schools Fund drafted by a coalition of nonprofits. They’re proposing 50 million dollars to begin a clean energy conversion in schools.

Steve Thompson with Electrify Montana said this, “We want as many schools as possible to, first of all, develop a blueprint for where they'd like to go. What makes sense for their schools?”

The group would then distribute funding to schools based on those blueprints. They say 50 million could help between 20-30 schools and would tie in to a lot of other federal funding targeting school updates.

Austin: You mentioned earlier EPA has 5 billion dollars on hand to distribute to states — Any idea how much Montana could get?

Ellis: Several people I spoke with about this proposal, and DEQ said they’re hoping for 100 million but it’s really uncertain right now.

We’ll learn more about what projects the state wants funding later this spring for and what the federal government approves of sometime in the fall.

Austin: So it sounds like we’re on the first step of what’s going to be a pretty long process, thanks for breaking it down for us Ellis!

Ellis: Thanks!

Ellis Juhlin is MTPR's Rocky Mountain Front reporter. Ellis previously worked as a science reporter at Utah Public Radio and a reporter at Yellowstone Public Radio. She has a Master's Degree in Ecology from Utah State University. She's an average birder and wants you to keep your cat indoors. She has two dogs, one of which is afraid of birds.
Austin graduated from the University of Montana’s journalism program in May 2022. He came to MTPR as an evening newscast intern that summer, and jumped at the chance to join full-time as the station’s morning voice in Fall 2022.

He is best reached by emailing
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