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New Montana Law Bans Agencies From Considering Climate Impacts in Analyses

The bill severely undermines a major tool of the climate movement.

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte inspects the wreckage of a crash that killed four airmen at 8,500 feet on Emigrant Peak on July 24, 2021 in Emigrant, Montana.

Montana is now home to one of the most extremist anti-climate, pro-fossil fuel and big developer laws in the country after Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte signed a GOP-sponsored bill banning agencies from considering climate impacts in major project analyses last week.

H.B. 971, which passed both chambers of the state legislature largely by party lines last month, bans agencies like the Montana Department of Environmental Quality from considering greenhouse gas emissions and climate impacts both inside and outside of the state when conducting analyses of large projects like coal mines and power plants.

The new law severely undercuts environmental analyses as a major tool of the climate movement, and, as Inside Climate News writes, is one of the most aggressive anti-climate laws in the country. The bill had garnered widespread opposition from the public with more than 1,000 public comments, 95 percent of which were submitted to oppose the proposal, per the Montana Free Press.

“Our families are already suffering from an increase in the number of sweltering summer days, longer wildfire and smoke seasons, and historic drought,” executive director of Families for a Livable Climate, Winona Bateman, told Montana Free Press. “I am not sure how Gov. Gianforte imagines we will do our part to address these growing impacts, or pay for them, if we’re not working to eliminate the root cause.”

H.B. 971 is one of several attacks that the GOP has waged against the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and its state counterparts in recent years. NEPA and similar laws have long been a target of oil and gas companies and major developers, who view the laws safeguarding public comment on projects and mandating that more environmentally-friendly project plans are considered in the project process as a burden.

Republicans across the country are waging war on policies designed to address the climate crisis, however mildly, on the state level, in a fossil fuel-funded campaign to further entrench Big Oil and worsen the climate crisis.

Republican backers of the Montana bill are climate deniers, by their own admission. When asked if he believes humans cause climate change last month during a committee hearing on the bill, sponsor Rep. Josh Kassmier (R) deflected, saying “I’m not a scientist.” Gianforte claims to accept the reality that the climate crisis is happening, but has said before that “American innovation and ingenuity” will solve it — another form of denialism that aligns with messages from the climate delayism movement that seeks to prolong and worsen the climate crisis by delaying action indefinitely.

Indeed, though Gianforte claims to accept the reality of the climate crisis, he has taken steps to halt or delay climate action in the state, despite the fact that a Montana government analysis found that Montana’s average temperatures have risen by between 1.1 and 1.7 degrees Celsius between 1950 and 2015, and are projected to rise by 2.5 to 3.3 degrees Celsius by the middle of the century, melting glaciers in the state and potentially causing other cascading effects.

The bill comes as a group of Montana children have sued the state government for failing to protect “the right to a clean and healthful environment,” as given by the state Constitution, due to its persistent bolstering of the fossil fuel industry.