By Laura Lundquist, Missoula Current
After a Montana district judge recently ruled that the state should take a closer look at a proposed Laurel gas power plant and its contribution to greenhouse gases, Republican legislators are trying to rush through a last-minute bill to prevent any consideration of climate change when it comes to state-issued permits.
On Monday, the House Natural Resources committee heard testimony on and passed House Bill 971, sponsored by Rep. Joshua Kassmier, R-Fort Benton. The 10-5 party-line vote occurred Monday evening with Republicans voting in favor.House Bill 971 sets up a sort of Catch-22 for Montanans. First, it says the Montana Department of Environmental Quality may not consider greenhouse gas emissions and their related impacts when conducting environmental reviews for permits. However, knowing the courts could find that requirement violates the Montana Constitution’s right to a clean and healthful environment, the bill also sets up a contingency where most of DEQ’s permits – air, water, oil and gas, mining – will no longer go through environmental review under the Montana Environmental Policy Act if the Montana Supreme Court makes such a ruling. Kassmier said the bill is nullified once the U.S. Congress regulates carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act.