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Regulators hold first of three in-person listening sessions on Montana environmental policy

Officials listen as a community member speaks her piece
Kayla Desroches
Yellowstone Public Radio
A member of the public speaks to Montana Department of Environmental Quality regulators on October 2 in Billings at the first of three in-person listening sessions about the Montana Environmental Policy Act.

Around two dozen people in the Billings Convention Center Monday night weighed in on the Montana Environmental Policy Act, or MEPA, in a comment period the Montana Department of Environmental Quality opened in late September in light of the recent discussion, legislation and legal action surrounding it.

Lawmakers passed changes to MEPA in the most recent legislative session, prohibiting state regulators from considering greenhouse gas emissions and climate change impacts when reviewing proposed projects. In August, a district court judge blocked those changes as part of her decision in the youth climate case Held v. Montana. DEQ and other state agencies filed to appeal the decision over several days from late September into this week.

Multiple people in Billings on Monday, October 2 asked the DEQ to comply with the court decision, and commenters also asked regulators to factor in pollution, emissions, and climate change impacts while reviewing projects.

“I would like to see the amount of emissions it’s going to have and some type of equivalency that the typical Montanan can understand,” said Billings resident Christine Glenn.

Other thoughts offered at the podium included a request for rigorous environmental analyses that accommodate public feedback and more opportunities for members of the public to participate.

DEQ is holding MEPA listening sessions in person and remotely later this month in Helena and Missoula on October 18 and 19. An online-only session is scheduled for November 1.

DEQ director Chris Dorrington told YPR on September 29, the Friday before the Billings meeting, that regulators are looking for thoughts on greenhouse gas emissions and other possible considerations for the policy’s future over the next decade and beyond.

“What I anticipate is that the public and stakeholder input will center around certain themes that then a work group could consider all of the feedback, centralize it around certain ideas MEPA has to either consider or modify or become something slightly different than it is today,” said Dorrington.

Comments are due December 1.

Editor's Note Oct 20, 2023: A former version of this story incorrectly stated the date of the final, remote listening session. It has since been corrected. The final listening session is November 1.

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