Fossil Fuels

coal website photo


MEIC works vigorously to reduce the use of dirty coal in Montana and implement a thoughtful transition to renewable and clean energy sources. Our coal program works to address all parts of the coal cycle, from mining to transportation to burning and to disposal. Coal is a major industrial polluter of air toxins and greenhouse gases, damages our water quality during mining, and puts undue strain on Montana communities as the volume of coal train traffic crossing the state and our communities continues.

Coal-Fired Power Plants

The Colstrip coal-fired power plant is one of the largest coal plants west of the Mississippi River and each year it is among the leader greenhouse gas emissions sources in the nation. The plant consists of two remaining units. Two units were closed in early 2020 because of economics (an agreement MEIC struck with the plant owners in 2016 required closure of those units by mid-2022). The two larger units have no closure date, but most of the owners will be financially ready to close the plant by 2025. Four of the six owners are utilities in Washington and Oregon. NorthWestern Energy is Montana’s only electric utility that has an ownership interest in the plant. NorthWestern owns 30% of unit 4. Leaking coal ash ponds present another challenge.

Coal Mining

About 25% of the nation’s recoverable coal reserves are located in Montana. Coal mining puts land and water resources at risk. Coal mine reclamation is a significant challenge in Montana. Mining companies do not reclaim lands concurrently with mining which raises the issue of whether the reclamation bonds are adequate. As groundwater moves through reclaimed mines it becomes contaminated with a multitude of previously unavailable chemicals and toxins. This contamination can appear in surface water, in the uptake of contaminants in vegetation, and in wells. Because coal mining companies are unable to effectively deal with these water quality problems, as well as the problems mines cause with water availability, no land mined after the passage of the Montana Strip and Underground Mine Reclamation Act has ever had its bond fully released. Coal mining in Montana has been declining since about 2014.

Coal Exports

As demand for coal in the United States slowly but steadily wanes, coal mining companies have attempted to export coal to Asia to maintain their profit levels. In recent years, all proposals to build coal export terminals on the west coast have failed based upon indigenous rights, water quality, and community impacts. 

Oil & Gas

MEIC is working diligently to protect our air, water, and climate from the negative impacts of oil and gas development, burning, vehicle use, and use in homes and businesses. Development of oil and gas in Montana threatens clean air and climate through unchecked emissions. Development of oil and gas also threatens clean water as a result of the hydraulic fracturing process. MEIC has a long history of working to address environmental issues from oil and gas development in Montana, from coal bed methane development to the current problems associated with the development and use of oil and gas in buildings and vehicles.

Learn more about oil and gas pollution in Montana.

Clean and healthful. It's your right, our mission.

Climate Change in Montana

MEIC feels the urgency of addressing the significant threat of climate change and has dedicated the majority of resources within our organization towards stopping the pollution that causes climate change.

Human-caused global warming through the release of carbon dioxide (CO₂) and methane represents a clear and present threat to our natural environment and human civilization that needs to be addressed immediately. The ramifications of a warming climate are pervasive and largely irreversible. Temperatures will continue to increase, sea levels will continue to rise, and the occurrence of extreme weather events will become more frequent. Natural systems will be permanently altered and disrupted, species will go extinct, and our earth will be forever altered. Montana has and will continue to feel the effects of a warmer climate in ways that will affect our natural environment and outdoor heritage. MEIC is committed to preventing climate changing pollution at the source and helping the state move towards a clean energy system.


Climate change is one of the greatest threats to Montana’s economy and way of life.

The Montana Farmers Union reports that climate change could cost Montana’s agriculture industry almost 25,000 jobs and $726 million over the next 50 years.

Meanwhile, the Montana Wildlife Federation reports climate change could cost the state’s outdoor economy 11,000 jobs and $281 million in income due to stream closures, lost hunting opportunities, wildfires, and reduced snowpack.

In 2017, more than 1 million acres burned across Montana in wildfires, causing the state legislature to be called into special session to deal with the enormous firefighting costs.


    The Montana Climate Assessment was produced in 2017 after two years of intensive effort by scientists at Montana State University and University of Montana. The assessment explains the major impacts of climate change observed in Montana in recent decades and projected into the future.

Some major findings include:
  • “Montana is projected to continue to warm in all geographic locations, seasons, and under all emission scenarios throughout the 21st century.”
  • “Earlier onset of snowmelt and spring runoff will reduce late-summer water availability in snowmelt-dominated watersheds.”
  • “An increase in fire risk (i.e., probability of occurrence)—including an increase in size and possible frequency and/or severity (i.e., tree mortality)—is expected in the coming century as a result of a) prolonged fire seasons due to increased temperatures, and b) increased fuel loads from past fire suppression.”

Clean Energy

Renewables Energy & Storage

MEIC has a long history, and continues today, to play an active role in promoting Montana clean energy projects and policies. Montana has an abundance of clean, renewable energy resources such as wind, solar, energy efficiency, small hydro, and low-emission biomass. In fact, Montana boasts approximately 700,000 megawatts of wind energy potential but only has about 700 installed. That is just 0.1% of our potential! Much more can and should be done to meet Montana and the region’s energy needs with our clean, reliable, and affordable resources. They are the keys to a sustainable energy future.

MEIC promotes renewable energy usage by:

  • Fighting for clean energy at the Montana Legislature;
  • Fighting for clean energy at the Montana Public Service Commission;
  • Ensuring utilities fairly evaluate Montana’s clean energy resources;
  • Fighting for transmission access: the linchpin to clean energy in the region.

Energy Efficiency

Energy efficiency means getting more out of the energy we already use. It’s the least expensive, most reliable, and cleanest energy resources available. Although energy efficiency is not always thought of as an energy resource, it is abundantly available and has great potential in Montana and the region. In fact, the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, a regional energy-planning agency, has determined that energy efficiency and conservation can meet 85% of the Northwest’s increasing energy needs over the next 20 years.

MEIC promotes energy efficiency by:

  • Adoption of energy efficient building and energy codes;
  • Protecting the Universal System Benefit program;
  • Pressuring utilities and decision-makers to prioritize energy efficiency programs.

Clean and healthful. It's your right, our mission.

Utilities & Transmission Lines

Utilities play a critical role in the movement toward a clean energy future. Some progressive utilities around the county are going above and beyond minimum legal requirements to secure cheap, clean energy for their customers. Others are regressive, fighting against anything that might result in more clean energy or energy efficiency. Unfortunately, Montana’s largest utility, NorthWestern Energy, has been and continues to be in the latter category. Diligent watchdogging and strategic actions are continuously necessary to make sure Montana does not go backward on clean energy.

Transmission: The Linchpin to Clean Energy in the Region

Thanks to Montana’s tremendous renewable energy potential, we can play a serious role in helping to mitigate climate change. However, in order to realize our full renewable energy potential there will need to be adequate capacity on the transmission lines to carry Montana’s renewable electricity to West Coast markets. As coal-fired power plants go offline, transmission line capacity will open up. There is also the potential to upgrade existing transmission lines, or even construct new ones, to carry even more clean electrons to high demand areas and create new jobs in the process.

MEIC helps increase Montana’s renewable energy access transmission lines by:
  • Pushing transmission system owners, such as the Bonneville Power Administration and others, to upgrade existing facilities to allow for more Montana clean energy exports.
  • Intervening in administrative proceedings to make sure Montana renewable energy is charged fair rates for use of transmission lines.
  • When appropriate, supporting the construction of new transmission lines.

NorthWestern Energy

MEIC pushes Montana’s utilities to move toward a clean energy future by:

  • Participating in NorthWestern Energy’s long-term planning process advisory committee and providing comments to the PSC on the plan.
  • Monitoring and countering the actions of utilities to hinder our clean energy future at the Montana Legislature, Public Service Commission, and in other legal and administrative forums.
  • Monitoring and strategically participating in legal and administrative processes in other states to make sure Montana’s clean energy resources are fairly evaluated.