Lawsuit says Montana ignored climate in approving $250 mln power plant

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A mountain goat grazes along the Hidden Lake Trail near Clements Mountain in Glacier National Park, Montana August 23, 2011. REUTERS/Matt Mills McKnight (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENVIRONMENT TRAVEL SOCIETY ANIMALS)

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  • Environmentalists say plant could worsen effects of climate change in Montana
  • Lawsuit comes six months after NorthWestern Energy announced plans for 175-megawatt plant

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Environmental groups sued the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) on Thursday over an air-quality permit it issued for NorthWestern Energy Inc's (NWE) proposed natural gas-fired power plant in the state.

The Sierra Club and the Montana Environmental Information Center (MEIC) allege in their state court complaint that DEQ's analysis of the environmental impacts of the Laurel, Montana, 175-megawatt proposed plant fails to include its potential contribution to local climate change.

The plaintiffs allege violations of the Montana Environmental Policy Act (MEPA).

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The lawsuit comes just six months after Sioux Falls, South Dakota-based NWE announced plans to build the Laurel Generating Station, which it expects to be in operation by January 2024. The complaint also names NWE as a defendant.

The DEQ did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

An NWE spokesperson did not comment on the lawsuit but said in a statement that the company "is committed to environmental stewardship during" the plant's construction and operation.

Anne Hedges, a director at MEIC, said in a statement that the DEQ had "refused to consider the fact that methane gas from plants such as this one are what are making the climate crisis... even worse."

The plant would emit about 770,000 tons of greenhouse gases per year, according to the complaint. It received an air quality permit from the DEQ in August, the lawsuit says.

The plaintiffs say that the DEQ's environmental analysis under MEPA "fails to disclose or provide any analysis of potential climate change impacts from greenhouse gas emissions from the proposed facility."

The complaint argues that although the state law limits MEPA-mandated environmental reviews to in-state impacts and climate change's scope is global, the DEQ should have considered the project's effects on climate change in Montana. The plaintiffs cite changing wildfire seasons in Montana as an example.

Methane, the biggest cause of climate change after carbon dioxide, is facing more scrutiny as governments seek solutions to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, a goal of the Paris climate agreement.

NWE serves about 740,000 customers in Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska and in the Yellowstone National Park.

The case is Montana Environmental Information Center et al v. Montana Department of Environmental Quality et al., Montana 13th Judicial District Court, No. N/A.

For Montana Environmental Information Center et al: Amanda Galvan of Earthjustice

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New York-based correspondent covering environmental, climate and energy litigation.