Highwood Coal Plant Project Near Great Falls, Montana Officially Dead


State revokes air quality permit


Jenny Harbine, Earthjustice, (406) 586-9699
Anne Hedges, Montana Environmental Information Center, (406) 443-2520
Jerry Taylor, Citizens for Clean Energy, (406) 453-0725
Sanjay Narayan, Sierra Club, (415) 977-5769
Danielle Blank, National Parks Conservation Association, (406) 222-4478

Following a lengthy legal battle launched by citizen groups, the state of Montana has officially ended plans by a power company to build a dirty coal fired power plant there.

This week, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality revoked the air quality permit for a 250-megawatt coal-fired power plant planned east of Great Falls, Montana. The plant developer, Southern Montana Electric Generation and Transmission Cooperative, will instead move forward with a 120-megawatt natural gas-fired plant.

The move was the latest in a series of victories across the country for citizen groups opposed to the construction of new dirty coal power plants because of the massive climate changing pollution they emit.

The Montana plant was challenged by Montana Environmental Information Center, Citizens for Clean Energy, Sierra Club, and the National Parks Conservation Association, represented by Earthjustice.

Earlier this year, SME announced that it would shift its focus toward constructing a natural gas-fired power plant rather than the coal-fired facility in light of ongoing legal challenges and regulatory uncertainty. However, SME retained its air quality permit and continued construction of the coal plant. Now that DEQ has revoked the permit, no further construction may occur on the facility.

Jenny Harbine, an Earthjustice attorney who represented the coalition said, “This coal plant has been an inch from dead for months now and it appears as though the final nail in the coffin has been driven.”

If constructed, the plant would have emitted approximately 2.1-million tons of CO2 each year. CO2 is a major global warming pollutant.

Anne Hedges of the Montana Environmental Information Center said the decision was an enormous step forward noting, “We can no longer continue to ignore global warming. With the revocation of this permit, it appears that SME and Montana have finally recognized that coal-burning has no future in this state.”

“Abandoning this plant is a valuable first step towards a modern, clean energy future for Montana,” said Sanjay Narayan, an attorney with Sierra Club.

The coal plant was to be built on top of the Great Falls Portage National Historic Landmark and Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail. Danielle Blank, senior coordinator with the National Parks Conservation Association, was also relieved. “It was simply inappropriate to consider placing a coal fired power plant within the boundaries of two National Park units,” she said. “We’re pleased at this important step toward preserving the integrity of The Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail and Great Falls Portage National Historic Landmark.”

Environmental advocates are optimistic that other proposed coal-fired power plants currently challenged by Earthjustice, like Sunflower in Kansas, Desert Rock in New Mexico, and the Dry Fork plant in Wyoming, may soon follow suit.

Harbine stated, “All along, we hoped that our challenge would force a switch to cleaner, and hopefully renewable, sources of energy, so we’re heartened to see the announcement today. We hope that others will also see the writing on the wall and make the switch to clean energy.”

In the wake of a federal Earthjustice lawsuit in 2007, the federal Rural Utilities Service announced that it would not fund the Highwood coal plant — or any other coal plants through 2009. According to SME’s chief executive, Tim Gregori, regulatory uncertainty and environmental litigation prevented the plant from obtaining alternative financing.

SME’s decision to back away from coal comes after years of concerted opposition by citizens concerned about global warming and harmful air pollution. Earthjustice represented citizen groups in several actions challenging the plant’s failure to address CO2 emissions that are driving global warming and to install state-of-the-art controls for hazardous air pollutants and fine particulate matter or soot (PM2.5) that causes asthma, heart attacks, and even premature death. 

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