Reactions to Supreme Court’s carbon ruling quick and diverse in Montana

Coal-fired plant in Colstrip, Montana. (Photo MEIC)


The U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision Tuesday to block President Barack Obama’s rule limiting greenhouse gas emissions from power plants drew praise from two of Montana’s congressional delegates and prompted the state’s Republican attorney general to seek campaign contributions on the subject to fund his reelection.

But the court’s narrow decision also drew criticism from climate activists across the state and prompted Gov. Steve Bullock to suspended a panel he appointed last year to address new federal carbon emission rules.

While the court’s decision is only temporary, it was lauded by Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Montana, who called Obama’s global warming regulations “a gross abuse of executive power.” Zinke said advances in coal technology make it possible to develop resources with low emissions and fewer rules.

“As Montanans, we all want clean water and clean air, but that doesn’t mean we should lock up our state’s vast energy resources,” Zinke said. “Economic development and responsible conservation are not mutually exclusive goals.”

But the Montana Environmental Information Center and other climate activists don’t see the High Court’s temporary ruling as a victory for advocates of fossil fuels.

“We can be part of the solution or we can just put our heads in the sand and pretend like this change won’t happen,” said Ann Hedges, deputy director of MEIC. “Zinke, (Steve) Daines and (Tim) Fox are crowing victory as if this ruling is the end when it’s actually just a side show.”

While Hedges called the court’s decision a disappointment, she said it will do little change the trajectory of the nation’s shift toward clean energy. She said rapidly changing markets and renewable energy sources will have the final say.

“People are concerned about climate change,” she said. “It’s not just 200 countries and the Pope who are concerned. It’s millions of people across the country, and the pressure on the biggest sources of pollution to do something about that pollution won’t vaporize by any action by the Supreme Court.”

Zinke, who is up for reelection this November, also praised Montana Attorney General Tim Fox for joining 27 other states last year in an effort to block Obama’s efforts to reign in greenhouse gases.

On Wednesday morning Fox, a Republican, released an email praising the court’s decision and seeking campaign donations for his own reelection. He called the court’s temporary decision a “huge win for Montana,” adding it was one of the most important cases he’s participated in during his time in office.

“If the president’s carbon scheme is allowed to go into effect, Montana will lose over 7,000 jobs and we’ll experience an economic shock in our state bigger than what was felt from the Great Recession,” Fox said. “This is why it’s so incredibly important we have a Republican in the Attorney General’s office.”

Sen. Steve Daines, R-Montana, also praised Fox for his efforts to block the plan. Daines pledged to continue fighting to stop what he described as Obama’s “job-killing agenda.”

“The Supreme Court decision to issue a nationwide stay on the Obama administration’s misguided, job-killing rule is great news for Montana,” Daines said. “The so-called Clean Power Plan will kill Montana jobs and leads our country in the wrong direction—away from being an energy leader.”

Gov. Bullock suspended his clean energy panel after the Supreme Court released its decision on Tuesday. Hedges criticized the governor’s decision to not take the opportunity to move Montana toward a clean-energy forward.

“The real disappointment is disbanding that group,” Hedges said. “Montana needs to have a real conversation about our energy future. If we fail to do that, it will happen without us instead of us being a part of it and benefiting us as a result of it.”

In a statement released Tuesday, Bullock said he was committed to advancing Montana’s energy future despite the court’s ruling.

“What we cannot put on hold… is the need to address climate change and embrace Montana’s energy future, and I am committed to ensuring we do so on our own terms,” Bullock said.