A Montana judge has canceled an important permit for a new natural gas power plant under construction along the Yellowstone River.
The plant is being built by NorthWestern Energy, a company based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. It’s expected to cost $250 million, and to run for at least 30 years, providing power to the area that’s less polluting than the current coal power prevalent in the state. But according to State District Judge Michael Moses, officials haven’t looked far enough ahead at the plant’s potential impact.
Over that 30-year predicted life of the plant, it can be expected to put out at least 23 million tons of greenhouse gases. Montana officials claim that they have no authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, because climate change is a global and not a local phenomenon. But according to Moses, that’s a misinterpretation of the law.
The Montana judge ordered the Montana Department of Environmental Quality to make more reviews of the potential impact of the power plant, and to make an impact report on how much the potential emissions could impact climate change within Montana.
In recent years, climate change has hit the U.S. particularly hard. The Yellowstone River itself experienced major flooding last year, due to drought followed by extreme rains, and such floods can be expected more and more often.
“The emissions and impacts of the (gas plant) are potentially significant,” Moses wrote. “Defendants do not dispute this.”
The ruling may not halt construction, as the permit is only required for the plant to begin operations, not to be constructed.
Montana is currently weighing bills which would make it harder, if not impossible, for organization and individuals to have a say in the environmental decisions which will impact them. Justice Moses’s ruling began as a complaint from environmental groups representing those living in the impact site.