Montanans love the state’s constitution. Why isn't NorthWestern Energy doing this? • Daily Montanan

Soon, Montanans will have the opportunity to show their support for our constitutional rights while seeing democracy in action.

On May 15 at 9:30 a.m., the public in Helena can watch as the Montana Supreme Court hears a case that could have enormous consequences for our health, our finances and the prosperity of future generations.

Put simply, the hearing will examine how NorthWestern Energy's controversial methane plant under construction in Laurel complies with Montanans' constitutional right to a clean and healthy environment. Unfortunately, the energy monopoly company has repeatedly shown that it cares more about increasing executive pay and shareholder profits than complying with our laws or caring for our future.

NorthWestern's $310 million power plant would saddle Montanans with even higher energy bills on top of historic costs Interest rate increase by 28% It recently raised fees from ratepayers. It would emit hundreds of tons dangerous and carcinogenic toxins in the air in Yellowstone Valley every year. It would also be most relevant to this court case 23 million tons of climate-damaging pollutants This adds to the chaotic weather that is expected to cost taxpayers and Montana's agricultural and recreational communities Hundreds of millions in the coming years. Even the Montana Public Service Commission staff recently criticized NorthWestern due to a lack of transparency and a lack of consideration of more affordable, environmentally friendly energy sources in planning.

The case – Montana Environmental Information Center and Sierra Club v. MT DEQ, NorthWestern Corporation and the State of MT – is specifically about that Air Quality Permit The Montana Department of Environmental Quality received the NorthWestern award for its facility located next to the famous Yellowstone River (built on land). designated for agricultural use, By the way). The court must decide whether our constitutional right to “a clean and healthy environment” and the state’s constitutional obligation to preserve it require such permits to assess a project’s climate pollution. In issuing the permit, DEQ declined to assess the climate impacts of methane combustion or the impacts of any associated methane leaks from the wellhead to the facility.

Methane has a warming effect on our atmosphere that is 80 times greater than carbon dioxide in the first 20 years. It is this atmospheric warming that has contributed to this record deepest snow cover this yearThis puts enormous financial strain on our ski industry and threatens water levels in our lakes and rivers, impacting fishing, wildlife and agriculture. According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service95% of the state is experiencing unusually dry or extreme drought. It's becoming increasingly clear that ignoring climate pollution endangers the things we love most in Montana.

But this case also has serious implications for the health of our democracy. The executive branch, which includes DEQ, wants to undermine the role of our elected state judiciary as a constitutional check on the other two branches of government. It is argued that the courts have no significant say in determining the constitutionality of these authorizations. Does DEQ believe it is above the law and that neither judges nor citizens can challenge its decisions or stand up for our constitutional rights?

If the executive branch wins this argument, the people of Montana would be protected from erroneous, illegal, or even corrupt executive and legislative decisions without legal recourse. Montana's days in the stranglehold of the Copper Kings remind us why appropriate checks and balances are necessary to prevent wealthy corporations from controlling government offices and trampling on ordinary people.

State authorities serve and protect we the people. Instead, DEQ supports NorthWestern Energy in its efforts to hide, pollute and undermine ratepayers.

Karen Stears lives in Billings, works in health care and is a member of the Northern Plains Resource Council, a grassroots conservation and family farming group.

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