Citizen Groups Challenge State Failure To Control Coal Plant CO2 Emissions in Montana

State ignoring global warming pollution?


Abigail Dillen, Earthjustice, (406) 586-9699

Following on the heels of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in the global warming case, Massachusetts v. EPA, Earthjustice has filed papers to compel state regulation to reduce CO2 emissions from new coal-fired power plants.

Today, on behalf of the Montana Environmental Information Center (MEIC) and Citizens for Clean Energy (CCE), Earthjustice appealed the air permit for the Highwood Generating Facility, a new coal-fired power plant proposed for construction on top of a National Historic Landmark outside of Great Falls, Montana. According to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), the proposed Highwood plant would emit 2.8-million tons of greenhouse gases, including 2.1-million tons of CO2 each year. While the DEQ acknowledged that these emissions will contribute to global warming, the agency declined to require the plant developers to employ any pollution controls for CO2. 

“We are very concerned that Montana is giving CO2 a free pass,” said Abigail Dillen, an Earthjustice attorney who is representing the citizen groups, “Ignoring CO2 and global warming impacts is not just bad public policy, it’s illegal.” 

In Massachusetts v. EPA, the Supreme Court confirmed that CO2 is a “pollutant” subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act. As Dillen explained, “This means that states need to come to grips with global warming and push electric utilities to find the most effective means of reducing their CO2 emissions.”

“Montana can and should be a leader in the fight against global warming,” said Anne Hedges of MEIC. In April, the Montana legislature passed a measure requiring the state’s default supplier, NorthWestern Energy, to capture and sequester 50% of CO2 emissions from new coal plants. However, for other utilities operating in the state, “it’s business as usual,” according to Hedges. “The DEQ is permitting the same old dirty plants when there are better, cleaner ways to meet our energy needs.”

In addition to greenhouse gas emissions, MEIC and CCE are aiming to curb emissions of fine particles (PM2.5) that cause premature death, heart attacks, and asthma, among other serious cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses. Despite new federal rules, which have substantially tightened emissions standards for PM2.5, the DEQ failed to impose emissions limits, consider pollution controls, or even require monitoring for PM2.5. According to Jerry Taylor of CCE, this is another fatal flaw in the state’s approach to air permitting. “When the state agency charged with protecting public health simply ignores a major public health hazard, something is fundamentally wrong.” 

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