Elinor Smith

HELENA (UM Legislative News Service) -- A bill that passed the Senate on a vote of 34-15 Friday would prevent greenhouse gases from being considered in environmental impact reports conducted under the 1971 Montana Environmental Protection Act, or MEPA, unless the federal government recognizes carbon dioxide emissions as a pollutant in the Clean Air Act. 

An environmental impact report is a document that shows all the possible effects new projects could have on the environment. 

House Bill 971 was introduced after a court ruling in Billings in which Montana District Judge Michael Moses cited the effects of greenhouse gases and climate change as one of the main reasons for his ruling blocking construction of a power plant along the Yellowstone River. 

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Josh Kassmier, R-Fort Benton, but Sen. Jason Small, R-Busby, carried it in the Senate. Small said Montana is already in line with the rest of the nation when it comes to environmental impact reports and the court ruling could have negative consequences on construction and development. 

“Even if the analysis could be completed in a defensible scientifically sound manner, those same agencies do not have regulatory authority in Montana to condition a permit based on greenhouse gases. So what they've done essentially by making that ruling is created an endless loop of litigation. And the impacts are very long lasting. It's not coal mines or anything else. I mean, MEPAs are required for trailer parks -- just about anything we do that involves the land,” Small said.  

Sen. Pat Flowers, D-Belgrade, opposed the bill. He said it was a rushed reaction and responding with legislative action so quickly would go against the entire purpose of MEPA. 

“The court made the decision here a few weeks ago. Immediately this bill was introduced, suspending rules I might add to get it in place. And I don't know how you define a knee-jerk any better than that. I don't think this has been well thought through. MEPA does not say anywhere in the law, ‘change the requirements in this law based on a court decision.’ In fact, it would encourage us to hold our ground on the fundamental requirements for process as was described by the carrier. And the process is to look at all the environmental impacts on a state action and do that in a way that's open to the public and then that decision is open to the public,” Flowers said. 

The bill will now move on to the governor’s desk for a signature or veto.