Today, the Thirteenth Judicial District Court in Yellowstone County ruled that the Montana Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) issuance of an air quality permit for NorthWestern Energy’s Laurel Generating Plant in 2021 was unlawful. The decision invalidates the air quality permit and requires NorthWestern Energy to stop construction of the controversial Yellowstone County Generating Station near Laurel. Neighbors of the proposed project are concerned about the plant’s impacts on their health, property, businesses, and the Yellowstone River.
“We are very concerned that this project will harm people who live near the proposed plant,” said Steve Krum, a retired refinery employee and member of the Laurel community. “Every time we have raised concerns about the impacts this plant will have on the quality of life of the neighbors and the Yellowstone River, those concerns have been dismissed. We appreciate that our concerns finally got a fair shake in court.”
On October 21st, 2021, a challenge was filed to DEQ’s decision to issue an air quality permit for NorthWestern Energy’s proposed 175-megawatt methane gas-fired power plant near Laurel, Montana, on the banks of the Yellowstone River. There was concern that DEQ had failed to analyze and disclose the project’s impacts.
In today’s ruling, the Court agreed that DEQ violated the Montana Environmental Policy Act by issuing the permit without fully evaluating the environmental consequences of plant construction and operation.
Despite NorthWestern’s attempts to fast-track necessary regulatory review and limit public engagement, local landowners — called the “Thiel Road Coalition” — and conservation advocates have consistently asserted their concerns about NorthWestern’s proposal to build a methane gas plant adjacent to the Yellowstone River. The plant’s critics note that lower-cost clean energy resources are available.
“My business, my family and my home will be directly impacted by NorthWestern’s proposed project. We have raised our concerns every step of the way, and state and local governments keep ignoring us,” said Kasey Felder, a landowner, small business owner and member of the Thiel Road Coalition. “We were worried we would get a ‘Braveheart’ ending to this story. It’s a relief to know the scales of justice are still in balance, and the little guy can be heard.”
“For too long it’s felt like a David versus Goliath battle. I’m so tired of the government and NorthWestern ignoring us. We live here. We have raised concerns time and time again about the impacts of this plant,” said Carah Ronan, farmer, small business owner and member of Thiel Road Coalition. “When the government breaks the law and refuses to listen to the folks who live in the area, we have nowhere else to turn but the courts. We are thankful that the courts are willing to side with average Montanans who are just concerned about their health, property, businesses, and future generations.”
The Court’s ruling critiqued DEQ for failing to analyze the gas plant’s greenhouse gas emissions and associated climate impacts in Montana, as well as the plant’s impacts on our quality of life. The ruling noted that, “if constructed, the Laurel Generating Station would emit at least 769,706 tons per year of climate-harming greenhouse gasses. This is equivalent to the annual emissions of 167,327 passenger vehicles.”