Caryn Miske

MT’s leaders won’t move on climate unless we act This summer Montana was the center of a historic climate victory when 14 courageous young people filed suit to defeat parts of the Gianforte administration's corporate agenda of backing fossil fuel and mining companies over our interests.

The judge in the Held case immediately ordered the state to analyze the climate impacts of new mining and fossil fuel projects in Montana – something dozens of states, companies and even individuals already do using widely available tools and data.

But instead of doing what is legally required, Gianforte has directed the Department of Environmental Quality to stall. A future where climate pollution is taken seriously and where regulators do their best to protect Montanans from high energy prices while conserving our environment is possible. Anyone who tells you it isn't needs to check the history books.

We live in a state that has experienced environmental catastrophe because of unrestricted greed and thoughtless extraction. We also live in a state in which Montanans have risen up to challenge corporate power and formulate some of the strongest constitutional and legal protections for our environment in the country. Unfortunately, right now we're at a critical juncture, where corporate influence in our politics is again reaching a high point.

Climate sanity, affordable energy and everyday freedoms are under attack from state leaders. The vision of a sustainable state for our communities and future generations is under significant threat from divisive and fossil fuel-hungry corporate interests.

The Held decision declared two laws passed by Montana's 2023 legislature unconstitutional (i.e. illegal). These laws were specifically written to aid the mining industry and NorthWestern Energy, the monopoly energy company that just raised rates by 28% on their customers, partially to build a gas power plant in Laurel that has been widely opposed by local residents.

So far, the state has done nothing since August to implement the judge’s order despite having the ability to use available tools or hiring climate experts to help get our emissions under control.

And why should we be surprised? During the Held case, Gianforte's team put up an embarrassing, scientifically bereft defense. The state wasted nearly $95,000 to hire three climate change deniers – expert witnesses – two of whom never even took the stand. They couldn't defend the indefensible. They sat and watched scientists, climate experts and Montana kids come forward to document the massive impact of Montana’s coal and gas investments on climate pollution as well as the high costs of fossil fuels on society as a whole.

MT DEQ recently completed “public listening sessions” across the state saying “"the model rules for MEPA haven't changed since the 80's," requiring a tour around the state to get public input. This is nothing more than a stalling tactic.

For one thing -- Montanans have been showing up to public meetings for over a decade now demanding action on the climate crisis. For another, the MEPA process actually has been updated dozens of times since the 1980's.

Enough excuses. Our taxpayer dollars shouldn’t support proposals written by mining and energy companies, nor embarrassing legal defenses to illegal laws or pointless months-long comment sessions where people have to repeat themselves for the umpteenth time. We're a state with a strong constitution that acknowledges our environment is what keeps us healthy, thriving and whole. Montanans believe in these values, and we need to protect them.

Montana is in a crisis of confidence, but Held is the kickstart we need to start holding elected officials accountable. Climate action and sustainable economic development are possible. We're lucky to have hardworking public servants across state agencies who work to make science-based decisions on conserving lands and wildlife but unfortunately they are often being directed to work on politically driven projects for the elected officials that serve as their bosses.

We need to follow the lead of the Montana kids who courageously brought the Held lawsuit forward and empower ourselves and each other to protect a just and livable future for all of our communities. Hundreds of Montanans have shown up this fall to demand that DEQ stop delaying. So what else can we do together to turn this ship around? Register to vote, do your research and show up.

You can also send your message of anger to Governor Gianforte, as well as the Montana Public Service Commissioners (find your Public Service Commissioner here: https://psc.mt.gov/About-Us/Commissioners/) for unanimously approving a 28% rate increase, giving a huge corporate handout to NorthWestern Energy and forcing Montanans to pay the highest electricity rates in the region.

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