Missoula, Helena, Bozeman ask MT delegation to support clean energy transition

An electric vehicle charges in a Missoula parking garage. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file)

Efforts to address climate change at the local level won’t go far unless Congress adopts national policies aimed at mitigation and frees up funding to pay for the efforts, several Montana cities and counties are telling the state’s delegation.

Missoula County commissioners have signed on to a letter with the Missoula City Council and the cities of Bozeman and Helena, asking Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines, and Rep. Matt Rosendale, to accelerate the development of clean energy and back a number of climate policies now before Congress.

That includes the Clean Electricity Payment Program and increased federal funding to update the nation’s transmission infrastructure, create the Civilian Climate Corps, and provide support for fossil fuel workers during the transition to a new economy.

“With your support of strong federal policy to address climate change, coupled with our efforts at the local level, we can strengthen Montana’s economy while ensuring that all Montanans, present and future, have the opportunity to enjoy the clean, healthy environment and quality of life that make our state so special,” the four governments wrote in their letter.

Montana’s average annual temperatures have increased 2 to 3 degrees since 1950, and they’re projected to warm another 5 to 10 degrees by the end of the century, according to a 2017 climate assessment released by 32 scientists representing the public and private sectors.

Already, the letter notes, Montana is experiencing the impacts of climate change with record-breaking summer temperatures, droughts, and longer wildfire seasons.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change also warned of catastrophic consequences if action isn’t taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on a large scale. The science community has come to describe the current situation as “the greatest threat to global public health.”

“We’re all aware that climate change is impacting Montana today in the form of hotter and dryer summers and longer wildfire seasons,” said Diana Maneta, the county’s conservation coordinator. “Missoula County, as well as with the cities of Missoula, Helena and Bozeman, have all recognized the tremendous threat this all poses to our communities and have made commitments to address it.”

Crews install solar panels on a Missoula business. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file)

The city and county of Missoula have both adopted policies around climate change, including a goal to achieve 100% clean electricity by 2030. Helena and Bozeman soon followed with policies of their own.

With parallel goals of addressing the climate crisis and reducing carbon emissions, the city and county of Missoula, along with the Bozeman and Helena, also have adopted a joint agreement to work with NorthWestern Energy in developing Montana’s first green tariff.

That effort was launched earlier this year and remains ongoing.

“We need our congressional delegation to stand up for Montana by supporting the strong climate policies currently under consideration in Congress, including the Clean Electricity Payment Program,” Maneta said.

That program is included in the reconciliation bill now before Congress. If approved, it would put the nation on a path to achieve 80% clean electricity by 2030 and 100% by 2035 by including incentives for utilities to shift to clean electricity while protecting ratepayers from future rate increases.

The program also includes clean energy tax incentives.

“While some may argue that this clean energy transition is too fast or too costly, the truth is that we can’t afford not to make these investments,” the four Montana government’s contend. “As we are rapidly learning from Western utilities, the alternative is much more costly, in economic terms as well as in terms of grid reliability and human health and safety.”

The four governments also are urging Montana’s delegation to support increased federal funding for transmission infrastructure, weatherization, and electrification of buildings and transportation. They’re also backing the support of a Civilian Climate Corps, which would include new jobs and career training.

A carbon pricing program “is also worth considering,” the letter contends.

“There’s only so much we can do at the local level,” Maneta said. “Local governments don’t have the authority to make the kind of sweeping changes needed to address climate change and build a resilient, clean energy economy while also supporting the economic transition for fossil fuel workers.”