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Young activists who won Montana climate case want to stop power plant on Yellowstone River



Helena, Montana – In the wake of a significant victory in a landmark climate change case earlier this year, a group of young environmental activists is attempting to convince the Supreme Court of Montana to halt the construction of a natural gas power station that is being constructed on the banks of the Yellowstone River.

In a court brief that was submitted on Tuesday, the sixteen activists argued that the air quality permit for the plant that is located near Laurel in the south-central region of Montana ought to be ruled illegal or at the very least suspended until the state announces its decision regarding their climate change complaint. Specifically, the brief was written in favor of two environmental organizations who are contesting the approval.

The activists were successful in their lawsuit against the state, which had been going on for years, accusing the state of not doing enough to protect them from the effects of climate change. There were major wildfires, flooding, drought, and other difficulties that were caused by rising temperatures, and they claimed that these conditions infringed their rights under the state constitution to a clean and healthy environment.

A state policy that did not compel officials to take into consideration the impact of greenhouse gas emissions when authorizing projects involving fossil fuels was deemed unlawful by the judge who presided over the case when it was brought before him.

The verdict in the first trial of its kind in the United States contributed to the handful of other legal decisions that have been made all over the world that have established a duty on the part of governments to protect their populations from the effects of climate change.

In the brief, their attorneys said the young activists have “a unique and significant interest” in making sure new fossil fuel projects like the power plant don’t proceed “given the significant harms resulting from additional (greenhouse gas) pollution in Montana.”

The state has issued a notice of appeal to the Montana Supreme Court over the climate verdict that was handed down in August; however, the state has not yet presented its reasons regarding the matter.

The teenage plaintiffs argued that the court should not wait for their case to be resolved before taking action on the permit for the power plant. In addition, their lawyers requested that any constitutional climate and environmental issues be addressed through the climate litigation, which was heard throughout the trial, rather than through the power plant permit case.

NorthWestern Energy has stated that the facility is being constructed in order to facilitate the provision of energy during periods of high demand when prices on the open market are highest. The company did not raise any objections to the attorneys representing the activists filing a brief in the lawsuit.

“We respect the views of other parties, however, NorthWestern Energy’s obligation is to provide reliable energy service at the most affordable rates possible for our Montana customers,” spokesperson Jo Dee Black said in a statement. “Reliable energy service, especially during the winter, is critical for our customers’ lives.”

It was decided in April by District Court Judge Michael Moses in Billings that the Montana Department of Environmental Quality had wrongfully awarded the permit for the Yellowstone County Generating Station in 2021. The reason for this decision was that the department had failed to take into consideration the consequences of greenhouse gas emissions. In response, the Montana Legislature revised its Montana Environmental Policy Act to state that the agency was not required to take into consideration emissions of greenhouse gases unless the federal government started regulating those emissions.

A portion of Moses’ decision to revoke his ruling that rendered the air quality permit null and void was a reaction to the new legislation that was passed in June. Construction work on the power plant that cost $250 million has resumed.

When reviewing permits linked to fossil fuels, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality and other agencies are required to comply with the ruling that was handed down by the court in August, according to Roger Sullivan, who is one of the attorneys representing the young plaintiffs.

“We are hopeful that the Court will find our amicus brief helpful,” Sullivan said.