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Judge halts construction on Laurel natural gas plant

The under-construction plant in Laurel
Kayla Desroches
Yellowstone Public Radio
The under-construction plant in Laurel

A district court judge has withdrawn an air quality permit necessary for completion of Northwestern Energy’s natural gas plant in Laurel, effectively stopping work on the 175-megawatt facility along the Yellowstone River.

In his order, Yellowstone County Judge Michael Moses finds Montana environmental regulators failed to take a hard look at the plant’s greenhouse gas emissions and lighting impacts in their environmental analysis before issuing the permit.

The Thursday decision emerges from a 2021 complaint filed by conservation groups Montana Environmental Information Center and the Sierra Club with the participation of residents who live near the plant, like Kasey Felder.

“It’s a relief that somebody out there was listening,” Felder said of the order Friday.

In a news release, NorthWestern Energy says it plans to appeal the decision. Representatives have said the plant is necessary for NorthWestern to generate energy to serve its customers into the future.

A spokesperson with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality said the agency is reviewing the ruling and does not have further comments at this time.

Judge Moses’ order calls for the DEQ to conduct further analysis on lighting and greenhouse gas pollution to comply with the Montana Environmental Policy Act.

Kayla writes about energy policy, the oil and gas industry and new electricity developments.