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Montana Supreme Court hears arguments on permit for Laurel power plant

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Montana Supreme Court hears arguments on permit for Laurel power plant


HELENA — Wednesday in Helena, advocates made their case on whether the state correctly granted NorthWestern Energy a permit for their planned power plant near Laurel.

The Montana Supreme Court met before a full audience Wednesday morning, to hear oral arguments in a case that centers on whether the Montana Department of Environmental Quality did sufficient environmental analysis when approving an air quality permit for the Yellowstone County Generation Station – a 175-megawatt natural-gas-fired plant.

Jonathon Ambarian

A full audience was in attendance May 15, 2024 as the Montana Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case that centers on NorthWestern Energy’s planned Yellowstone County Generating Station near Laurel.

Last year, a state district judge in Billings vacated the permit. It came after environmental groups challenged DEQ’s decision, saying the agency hadn’t taken the required “hard look” at issues like the plant’s greenhouse gas emissions and the impact of its lighting and noise on nearby residents.

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During Wednesday’s arguments, DEQ and NorthWestern defended the permitting decision and called on the Supreme Court to reverse the district court ruling.

Shannon Heim, NorthWestern’s general counsel and vice president of federal government affairs, said greenhouse gases aren’t regulated the same way as other pollutants, so DEQ didn’t have authority to regulate them. Therefore, she argued the permit can’t be vacated simply because the department didn’t review their impacts.

“The DEQ could not, in the exercise of its lawful authority, deny the permit based on greenhouse gas emissions, because there are no legal standards for greenhouse gas emissions,” she said.

Montana Supreme Court Laurel Plant

Jonathon Ambarian

Jenny Harbine, an attorney for Earthjustice, addressed the Montana Supreme Court May 15, 2024, during oral arguments in a case that centers on NorthWestern Energy’s planned Yellowstone County Generating Station near Laurel.

Jenny Harbine, an attorney for Earthjustice, represented the plaintiffs – Montana Environmental Information Center and the Sierra Club. She argued DEQ is required to look more broadly at the possible impacts of a project, and that the emissions from the Laurel plant had to be considered in the context of the potential effects of climate change in Montana.

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“Plaintiffs here are not criticizing the analysis that DEQ did do,” she said. “Our point is that there’s analysis that DEQ omitted.”

Harbine said plaintiffs are also concerned that, because the district court put a stay on its decision and NorthWestern was able to resume construction, they could begin operations without having had the full review plaintiffs believe is necessary.

Both sides in this case noted that the issues raised here overlap with those in Held v. Montana, the prominent climate change lawsuit that is also now before the Montana Supreme Court. In Held, a state district judge ruled that a law preventing regulators from considering greenhouse gas emissions in environmental reviews was unconstitutional. The 2023 Montana Legislature passed that law in response to the judge’s decision that vacated the permit for the Laurel plant.

Montana Supreme Court Laurel Plant

Jonathon Ambarian

Jeremiah Langston, an attorney for Montana DEQ, addressed the Montana Supreme Court May 15, 2024, during oral arguments in a case that centers on NorthWestern Energy’s planned Yellowstone County Generating Station near Laurel.

Jeremiah Langston, an attorney for DEQ, said the department had been planning to update its review in light of that law when it was blocked. He encouraged the Supreme Court to make its decision in Held and this case at the same time or somehow tie them together.

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“It would be immensely helpful to DEQ to know what laws apply to its MEPA analysis for a project,” he said.

Harbine said Held gave an example of the broad impacts of the state’s policies on climate reviews, and this case provided a specific example.

“I would just urge that whether the issue is resolved in this case or in Held – or in both, which we think is most appropriate – that it be done in a manner that prevents the constitutional infringement that would be caused when that plant begins operating and emitting greenhouse gas emissions before those emissions have been studied by DEQ,” she said.

The Supreme Court generally takes no immediate action after an oral argument, and that was again the case Wednesday.

Laurel Plant Capitol Rally

Jonathon Ambarian

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Attendees hold signs protesting against NorthWestern Energy’s planned power plant near Laurel, during a May 15, 2024, rally organized by Northern Plains Resource Council.

After the hearing, the conservation group Northern Plains Resource Council held a rally at the State Capitol, saying the possible impacts of the Laurel plant’s emissions need to be taken into account.

Those in attendance chanted “Clean and healthful; it’s our right!” – referring to the Montana Constitution’s guarantee of a “clean and healthful environment.”

Mary Fitzpatrick, a Northern Plains member, said people in Laurel and downwind of the plant in Billings have concerns about the potential health effects. MTN asked her what she thought would have changed if DEQ had taken a closer look at the plant’s greenhouse gas emissions.

“It’s hard to say – you know, just listening to the arguments, I got the impression that, possibly, nothing – except that we would know,” she said. “You can’t manage or change what you don’t measure.”

John Hines, NorthWestern’s vice president of supply and Montana government affairs, said the company sees the capacity of the Yellowstone County Generating Station as critical to make sure they can keep serving customers when other resources aren’t available. He said solar and wind production tends to be more unreliable during extreme weather, and that the company will be forced to pay more to purchase power on the open market if it doesn’t have a on-demand generation facility like this.

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“The bottom line is we have to have enough electrons and enough gas on our system to meet our customers’ needs when it’s critical weather – and, you know, we saw that in January when it was -45,” he said. “That’s our first obligation. And none of the groups who are throwing out alternative proposals have that responsibility.”

Hines said, if YCGS had been in operation during the January cold snap, it could have saved customers about $12 million over six days. He said renewables are a significant part of NorthWestern’s portfolio, and that it’s unfair for opponents to accuse the company of building the plant for profit because they could make more profit by building the same capacity in renewable projects.

Hines said YCGS could be fully operational within the next month and a half. He said NorthWestern has taken steps to address some of the concerns neighbors have raised about lighting and noise.

“We’ve been operating Yellowstone now in a test mode for quite some time, and local people have been asking us when are we going to start the engines,” he said. “So obviously the noise issue has been abated.”





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Montana Supreme Court schedules oral arguments in youth climate case

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Montana Supreme Court schedules oral arguments in youth climate case


The Montana Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments in the state’s appeal of the youth-led climate case Held versus Montana. On July 10 the court will hear from state officials and lawyers for the 16 youth plaintiffs who sued the state. They argue the state is failing to act on climate change.

A lower court ruled in favor of the young people last August, saying Montana’s constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment includes addressing climate change. The Supreme Court’s decision will be the final outcome of this case since it is predicated on the state constitution.

This decision will have implications both within Montana and the state’s Environmental Policy Act but also nationally as this is the first constitutional-climate litigation to have gone to trial in the U.S.

Similar youth-led cases are being pursued in other states and Montana’s ruling may contribute to the legal precedent for those cases.

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Montana Town Named One Of The Most Dangerous In U.S.

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Montana Town Named One Of The Most Dangerous In U.S.


Let’s be honest, when most people think about Montana, they think of mountains, lakes, and National Parks. I mean, it’s called The Last Best Place for a reason, right? While Montana has all of that and more, according to some recent data, we also have some serious crime across the state.

Over the years, Montana has become a hub for illegal activity, especially when it comes to drugs. No, I’m not talking about our friendly hippies baking “special brownies”, we’re talking about the hard stuff.

A recent national article talked about how Montana has become a destination for fentanyl and how drug dealers are making millions of dollars by selling these illegal drugs at a premium price and killing Montanans in the process.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Montana has a crime problem, and according to data, a lot of that is happening in one Montana city.

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Which Montana city is one of “the most dangerous” in America?

The website Neighborhood Scout searches cities and towns across the nation and grades them according to their safety and one Montana town didn’t get a very good report card.

Credit: Canva
Credit: Canva

The state’s biggest city is also the most dangerous. That makes sense based on population, but according to the facts and figures, it’s a little more alarming than that. As far as the crime index (100 being the safest) Billings scored a 2. What does that mean? Well, according to the website, that means that Billings, Montana is safer than 2 percent of U.S. Cities.

Credit: Canva
Credit: Canva

This makes the crime rate in Billings one of the highest in America. In fact, according to the data the average person has a 1 in 19 chance of being a victim of either a violent or property crime.

The good news? There are several neighborhoods in Billings considered safe. Here’s a look at the Top 5 according to Neighborhood Scout:

  • West Shiloh
  • Lockwood East
  • Baseline/Hesper
  • Broadview/Acton
  • Blue Creek

It’s good information to know, especially if you’re thinking of moving to the state’s largest city. Either way, be safe.

The 7 Most Dangerous Towns In Montana

Based on information from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, these are the most dangerous towns in Montana according to population and the number of violent and property crimes.

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Gallery Credit: Derek Wolf

Montana’s 7 Poorest Cities Ranked

For many Montanans, it’s a struggle to make ends meet. With the high cost of housing, several locals have found themselves between a rock and a hard place when it comes to just getting by. Throw in the fact that prices are on the rise in almost every aspect of our lives and it’s not too hard to see why so many Montanans are frustrated and are looking to leave The Treasure State.. Let’s take a look at the state’s 7 poorest cities according to Stacker.

Gallery Credit: Derek Wolf

The Most “Montana” Towns In Montana

If you’re looking for the best that Montana has to offer, you might want to start by asking a local and that is exactly what we did. We wanted to know which Montana towns were the most “Montana” and who better to ask than the folks who were born and raised in The Treasure State?

Gallery Credit: Derek Wolf

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Northwest Montana mountain snowpack rebounds in May

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Northwest Montana mountain snowpack rebounds in May


May 27—High-elevation snowpack in the Swan Range has remained near or above historical averages for most of May thanks to a series of cold storms that dumped snow and rain across the region.

The snow-water equivalent measurement registered at 39.1 inches for Noisy Basin on May 26, according to data collected at a SNOTEL weather station located at 6,040 feet. The median for that date is 31.6 inches. The snow-water equivalent is the amount of water held in the snowpack.

Likewise, about 83 inches of settled snowpack remains at Noisy Basin, considerably more than the median of 65.5 inches for May 26.

While a dry winter fueled by an El Nino weather pattern kept Northwest Montana’s mountain snowpack below average through the beginning of May, late-season snow storms have maintained and even added to the snow depth in some areas.

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The Noisy Basin snowpack actually peaked for the season on May 9 at 108 inches. The peak depth normally occurs in mid April before completely melting out by late June.

It’s a similar situation for Northwest Montana’s other mountain ranges.

A weather station on Flattop Mountain in Glacier National Park showed a snow depth of 72 inches on May 26, slightly below the median of 80.5 inches. Snow depth at Stryker Basin in the Whitefish Range was 50 inches, while Big Mountain’s upper reaches still held 53 inches of snow.

Overall, the Flathead Basin snowpack was 85% of normal on May 26, and 79% in the Kootenai Basin.

In the valley, Kalispell has seen measurable precipitation on 15 days so far this month. Between May 22-25, about 1.13 inches of rain was measured at Glacier Park International Airport. Precipitation month-to-date for Kalispell is 1.89 inches, slightly higher than the average of 1.42.

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The Flathead River at Columbia Falls crested at 8 feet during the recent rainy spell and was expected to rise to 10 feet by mid week. Flood stage is 13 feet.

Potent and potentially dangerous thunderstorms could affect the Flathead Valley on Tuesday. Heavy rainfall of half an inch in 30 minutes is possible. Urban areas could see ponding of water in poor drainage areas if they take a direct hit from a storm, according to the National Weather Service in Missoula.

Temperatures will run 5-10 degrees below normal, with overnight lows dipping into the 30s Wednesday night through Friday.

High pressure returns by the weekend with pleasant temperatures in the 70s.



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