By Brian Kahn, Earther Gizmodo
A fight is brewing in Montana over legislation that, if passed, would compel the state’s attorney general wide to investigate environmental groups and give them wide latitude to do so. The result could be a protracted legal battle and have a chilling effect on free speech around the transition away from coal and toward renewables.
The fight centers around the town of Colstrip and its state senator. Colstrip, as the name might make you guess, has one big business: coal. The town began as a waypoint to supply railroads with coal, and in the 1970s, the open pit mines that ring it began feeding Colstrip power plant. Satellite images show the scale of the industry, which dwarfs the town’s small grid of streets.
But the heyday of coal has come and gone in the U.S. Coal plants have retired at a rapid clip since the late 2000s, largely due to the glut of cheap natural gas unearthed by fracking and the falling cost of renewable energy. Two of the Colstrip power plant’s boilers were shut down last year as the result of an air pollution lawsuit. According to the Billings Gazette, four of the utilities that buy the power are Washington and Oregon, both states that will ban coal power in the coming years. That puts the future of the plant and its two remaining boilers on very shaky financial ground.