By Tom Lutey, Billings Gazette
Montanans will have a harder time challenging state government decisions, while cities are losing the ability to regulate anything involving fossil fuels, from power plants to gas stations, under new laws passed by the Montana Legislature.
Before ending its biennial session May 2, the Legislature’s Republican majority created several laws plowing a regulatory road for mining and fossil fuels.
The House GOP suspended rules to rush to the aid of a gas-fired power plant being built by NorthWestern Energy, which had been court ordered to halt construction because state permitters had ignored carbon emissions.
Senate Republicans went to work on bills making it more expensive for citizens to challenge government decisions on issues ranging from power plants and mining to management of bison and elk, as well as the preservation of battlefields and burial grounds. All those subjects are supposed to receive due diligence under permitting steps prescribed by the Montana Environmental Policy Act, the state’s half-century old a look-before-you-leap review of impacts to the environment, wildlife, and historical and cultural sites. Challenging the state’s pre-permit review will now require a lawsuit.