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By Tom Lutey, Billings Gazette

Construction of NorthWestern Energy’s gas-fired power plant in Laurel has been ordered halted by a judge’s ruling Thursday that state regulators ignored environmental risks when permitting the facility in 2021.

Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality “failed to take a hard look concerning two environmental issues,” ruled District Judge Michael Moses. The impacts of the gas-fired power plant’s emissions of greenhouse gases received no consideration by DEQ, Moses concluded. Noise from the power plant was the second issue, of which DEQ did little analysis.

Following its court-ordered hard look, the DEQ will have to decide whether permitting the plant warrants a detailed environmental impact statement, or the lighter touch of an environmental assessment.

“This power plant is one of NorthWestern Energy’s largest projects in Montana and it is up-wind of the largest city in Montana. It will dump nearly 770,000 tons of greenhouse gases per year into the air,” Moses wrote.


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