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Montana news about the environment, natural resources, wildlife, climate change and more.

New director takes over at Montana Department of Environmental Quality

Sonja Nowakowski has been selected to run Montana's Department of Environmental Quality
Sonia Nowakowski has been selected to run Montana's Department of Environmental Quality

Montana’s top environmental regulatory agency is under new leadership. The new director takes office amidst ongoing changes, legal challenges and preparations for the next legislative session.

Chris Dorrington leaves the Department of Environmental Quality as the agency works through several large projects. Those include proposed changes to the state’s bedrock environmental policy, waste management and recent unsuccessful attempts to update water quality standards for nutrient pollution.

“Stepping away at a time where a lot of issues are still very present and need attention, it’s not lost to me that I'm leaving that into the good and capable hands of my successors,” said Dorrington

He’s leaving the agency to run the Department of Transportation. He will be replaced by Sonja Nowakowski. She’s served as the head of DEQ’s Air, Energy and Mining Division since 2021. She says the leadership role is a natural fit

“When we talk about these big issues, we aren't talking about preventing industrial or agricultural development. Montana's environmental regulations encourage and foster economic development. But development that's environmentally and socially sound,” said Nowakowski.

This leadership change also comes amidst ongoing litigation over the agency’s permitting decisions of fossil fuel and mining projects.

Dorrington’s departure comes almost a week before the Montana Supreme Court hears oral arguments in the state's appeal of the youth-led climate case Held v. Montana.

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.
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