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A subset of petitioners have filed a writ of mandamus to request the court require the PSC make a decision on their February petition for rulemaking



Hiram Towle, Bridger Bowl Ski Area, 406-556-5723, htowle@bridgerbowl.com

Melissa Hornbein, Western Environmental Law Center, 406-708-3058, hornbein@westernlaw.org 

Nick Fitzmaurice, Montana Environmental Information Center, 406-443-2520 x 007, nfitzmaurice@meic.org

Winona Rachel, Families for a Livable Climate, 952-200-9888, winonarachel@livableclimate.org

Eva Molina, Gallatin Valley Sunrise, 406-224-0683, Eva.noelle.molina@gmail.com



MONTANA – A subset of petitioners who requested that the Montana Public Service Commission (PSC) comply with its statutory and constitutional duty to consider the impacts of climate change in its regulation of gas and electric utilities has filed a writ of mandamus requesting the court require the PSC to make a decision on the petition.

More than 40 Montana businesses and organizations submitted a petition for rulemaking on Feb. 28. According to state law, the PSC has 60 days from the date of a rulemaking petition submission to accept or deny the request to commence rulemaking. The deadline for this was April 28. On April 30, the PSC voted to extend the public comment period until July 1, claiming to be interested in gathering more information from the public while making clear that they were making no decision on whether to accept or deny the petition.

On May 9, the petitioners submitted a filing with the PSC highlighting the overdue requirement to comply with the 60-day deadline to accept or reject the petition for rulemaking. At the next PSC business meeting on May 28, Commissioners made no direct mention of this filing, while rejecting a motion from one commissioner to deny the petition.

The petitioners are concerned that this is a stall tactic designed to bump into statutory deadlines for agency rulemaking prior to legislative sessions. The PSC, like most government agencies in the state, is forbidden from engaging in rulemaking during the three months prior to the legislative session, which begins on the first business day of 2025. The decision to substantially extend the public comment period could significantly delay a decision from the PSC, if not prevent one altogether, inflicting further constitutional harm to petitioners and all Montanans.

“Bridger Bowl joined the rulemaking request to the Public Service Commission in good faith, believing that they must perform their duties under the law,”  said Hiram Towle, Bridger Bowl General Manager. “We also believed that the PSC would consider the public’s testimony and respond on time as the law clearly says the PSC must accept or reject the petition within 60 days. It appears there has been a misunderstanding of their legal duty, as we are well beyond the 60 days. Therefore we join with fellow petitioners to ask a court to reinforce their legal obligation to respond.” 

“We urge the PSC to adhere to its statutory and constitutional duty to either accept or reject the rulemaking petition,” said Winona Rachel with Families for a Livable Climate. “Montana families count on the PSC to do its job to protect our kids’ futures and our wallets. Climate is already affecting Montanans’ livelihoods, safety, and health and there is no time to stall – later is too late.”

The subset of petitioners that are joining the writ of mandamus action are the Montana Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Bridger Bowl Ski Area, Citizens for Clean Energy, Climate Smart Missoula, Families for a Livable Climate, Gallatin Valley Sunrise, Helena Hunters and Anglers, Montana Environmental Information Center, Northern Plains Resource Council, Park County Environmental Council, and 350 Montana.

“Montanans need our state officials to follow laws requiring timely responses to petitions like ours,” said Melissa Hornbein with the Western Environmental Law Center. “The Commission’s failure to act on this petition within the time required casts our future into uncertainty. We need our state government to take action to protect the health of Montanans today and ensure their health will not be jeopardized in the future.”

“The Commission will have plenty of opportunity to ask questions of the petitioners and solicit further public comment after it initiates the rulemaking process,” said Nick Fitzmaurice with the Montana Environmental Information Center. “The time for such discussion is during the rulemaking process, and we will gladly engage and answer questions at that time. The petitioners provided the PSC with extensive documentation of its legal authority and obligation to initiate rulemaking, as well as overwhelming scientific evidence of the climate crisis and the risks posed to utility customers should the PSC continue to ignore the problem.”

“The climate crisis is happening now, and we all must act now,” said Eva Molina at Gallatin Valley Sunrise. “All young peoples’ futures are at stake. Gallatin Valley Sunrise is bewildered by this delay, which is nothing more than a stall tactic to protect private interests.”

Montana courts have twice found that the state has an obligation to consider climate change in decision making. With broad oversight authority over Montana utilities, the PSC has the most consequential role of any decision-making body in the state in determining Montana’s impact on the climate. The PSC’s failure to act harms human health, causes serious economic harm to individuals and businesses across the state, and puts ratepayers at risk of continued escalation of rates driven even higher by investments into soon-to-be stranded utility assets.

The PSC heard from more than 50 proponents of the petition at a public meeting on April 8, many of whom cited the economic benefits of considering climate change and the economic downfalls of continuing to ignore it. Other utility commissions across the country account for climate change in their regulation of utilities because this practice protects consumers from rising costs and risky investments in resources whose harms outweigh their benefits. If the PSC were to compare energy resources on a level playing field regarding economics, environment, and health, it could only do so effectively by considering the impacts of climate change just as other states do. 



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