MONTANA

MONTANA

Montana, the Big Sky State, is famous not only for its sprawling skies but also its wide-open, mountainous lands. Montana is the fourth largest state, at over 145 thousand square miles, but the forty-fourth most populous, with only just over one million residents. There are more cows in Montana than there are people and agriculture is an important part of the state’s economy. Almost 30% of that acreage is public lands — Montana is home to seven national forests and fifty-three state parks.

Unfortunately, Montana’s formidable natural landscape is facing the degradation of climate collapse. In the past century, Montana has warmed about two degrees Fahrenheit, and drought has followed that heat. As the soil dries up, trees have died and become kindling to wildfires, which are increasingly frequent. Montana faces one of the worst drought threats in the country, second only to Texas, to such an extent that the future of water availability in the state is of pressing concern, and, by extension, the viability of agricultural yields. Of all the western states, Montana has seen the largest percentage increase in the number of fires.

These changes have cascading effects on Montana’s natural ecosystems. For example, dying trees and dry soils increases the risk of forest insect outbreaks. Additionally, a warmer climate means less yearly snowfall and more snowmelt during winter. Both of these conditions reduce snowpack, which can shorten the ski season — a major source of revenue for Montana. A diminished snow pack can even allow for tree lines to move to higher altitudes, threatening alpine tundra ecosystems.

Diana Six, an entomologist at the U. of Montana, returned from a trip to Montana’s Glacial National Park, in July 2021 where the 97/98˚heat had decimated the ice. In despair, she said, “I don’t think people realize that climate change is not just a loss of ice. It’s all the stuff that’s dependent on it. The water is too warm for the fish. At some of the lower elevations, glacier lilies were shriveled, lupins didn’t even open. The flowers should extend for another three weeks but they’re already gone. Any insects or birds that depend upon them, like bees or hummingbirds are in trouble, their food is gone. Bird populations have just baked. There have been total losses of alot of baby birds this year. You see these ospreys and eagles sitting on top of the trees in their nests and those young, they just can’t take the heat.”

Montana has the largest estimated coal reserves in the country (about 30%) and produces 5% of the nation’s coal. It also accounts for about 40% of Montana’s electricity generation. About 7 out of 10 households use natural gas as their primary source of heating, but that gas comes mostly from outside the state. 40% of Montana’s electricity generation comes from hydroelectric power plants and about 9% from wind. Montana’s fast moving rivers and vast plains make the state an ideal place for hydroelectric and wind energy generation.

In 2007, The Montana Climate Change Action Committee agreed upon 54 policy recommendations meant to reduce Montana’s greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020. However, by 2017, carbon dioxide emissions had risen 13% from 1990. In 2017, the Montana Institute on Ecosystems organized the collaborative interagency Montana Climate Assessment with the goal of driving knowledge-based policy. By 2019, Governor Steve Bullock created the Montana Climate Solutions Council, which delivered the first draft of their Montana Climate Solutions Plan in early 2020 and their final 72-page report in August 2020, outlining strategies to help reach Bullock’s stated goal of bringing net greenhouse gas emissions to zero in the electricity sector by 2035. The report also recommends the state reach net-zero emissions across the economy by 2050.

In July 2021, Gov. Greg Gianforte discontinued Montana’s membership in a coalition of two dozen states dedicated to fighting climate change. The U.S. Climate Alliance is a nonpartisan group committed to achieving the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement and avoiding the worst impacts of climate change. Democratic former Gov. Steve Bullock joined the alliance in 2019.

Asked if the governor has established any specific or measurable targets to reach climate goals, spokesperson Brooke Stroyke responded, “… you can’t set arbitrary, predictive limitations on innovation, and we can’t and shouldn’t put guardrails on innovation and ingenuity to address climate change.”

CURRENT NEWS

PLANS TO ACCELERATE RENEWABLES

Panel reviews nuclear power options in Montana

01/20/22
Small modular reactors supplying electricity in Montana could be part of the solution to the pending closure of the Colstrip coal-fueled power plant and give the facility new life, a nuclear power advocate told a…

DOE Awards $35 Million to Small Businesses Pursuing Clean Energy and Climate Solutions

01/06/22
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) today announced $35 million in funding for diverse small businesses to pursue scientific, clean energy, and climate solutions. The funding will support 158 projects across 29 states that will…

Montana’s largest wind farm underway near Miles City

12/26/21
On a recent winter afternoon the wind on this Eastern Montana plain was rising slowly like a tide, the cool dense air rolling in to replace what’s been warmed by daylight.

Montana’s slice of $555B in clean energy plan could expand green projects

12/09/21
There’s $555 billion for clean energy in the White House’s Build Back Better plan, and Montana energy stakeholders see opportunities for renewable development big and small.

Tribal Solar Projects Provide More Than Climate Solutions

09/16/21
In August 2021, two wildfires surrounded the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation in central Montana. By Aug. 11, more than 175,000 acres were ablaze, and all residents of Lame Deer, the largest town on the reservation,…

NW Energy’s proposed gas-fired plant disappoints Montana cities seeking all-green power

07/14/21
Missoula, Bozeman and Helena had an understanding that Montana’s largest electricity provider would help their citizens go to 100% net renewable electricity by the end of this decade.

Montana cities have carbon-free goals, but it’s not easy being green

06/26/21
NorthWestern Energy and three of Montana’s largest cities had gotten their wires crossed.

Giant solar project proposed in south Butte, landowners concerned

By Michael Cast Photo: Meagan Thompson , The Montana Standard 05/23/21
On June 17, Madison River Equity LLC will seek a special use permit from the Butte-Silver Bow Zoning Board to install a 1,600-acre solar array, the Basin Creek Solar Project, on private ranchland in south…

PSC sets terms for small renewable energy projects

By Tom Lutey Photo by Casey Page 02/28/21
The Montana Public Service Commission is starting to unwind renewable energy policies ruled unlawful by the state Supreme Court. Commissioners last week set 20-year contracts for renewable energy projects that qualify for favorable treatment under…

Preparing for Climate Change in Montana

08/30/20
This page provides an overview of the steps Montana is taking to prepare for the impacts of climate change.

KEY RESOURCES

Montana State Profile and Energy Estimates

10/10/21
Montana, known as Big Sky Country, is the fourth-largest state and a significant supplier of energy to the rest of the nation. The state is rich in both fossil fuels and renewable resources. About three-tenths…

Energy State Bill Tracking Database

09/10/21
The searchable Energy Storage Legislation Database displays information in interactive maps and charts, tracking state activity from 2017 to the present.

Environment and Natural Resources State Bill Tracking Database

09/01/21
The National Conference of State Legislatures tracks environment and natural resources bills that have been introduced in the 50 states, territories and Washington, D.C.

The First National Flood Risk Assessment

10/06/20
The First Street Foundation Flood Model represents the culmination of decades of research and development made possible by building upon existing knowledge and frameworks regularly referenced in the identification of flood risk.

Montana Climate Solutions Plan

09/21/20
Preliminary Recommendations and Key Questions

The Impacts of Climate Change and the Trump Administration’s Anti-Environmental Agenda in Montana

09/19/20
Between 2017 and 2019, Montana experienced two wildfires and one drought. The damages of each event led to losses of at least $1 billion.

State-by-State: Climate Change in Montana

07/31/20
Montana’s climate is already changing. The state has warmed two degrees Fahrenheit in the last century. Montana recorded its all time wettest spring in 2014, which saw massive flooding and economic damage. The number of…

What Climate Change Means for Montana

04/04/20
Montana’s climate is changing. In the past century,

Climate change impacts in Montana

04/04/20
From Glacier National Park's rapidly disappearing glaciers to larger outbreaks of bark beetles in our forests and warmer water temperatures in our trout streams, the effects of a changing climate can be seen all around…

Climate Central’s analysis shows how much hotter parks are projected to get later this century.

04/04/20
The future of National Parks is going to be a lot hotter, click to explore our interactive >>

MORE NEWS

Prairies on Fire in Montana Amid a Record December Heat Wave

By Jim Robbins  Photo: Lynn Donaldson   12/02/21  
Record-high temperatures and powerful winds have sparked a series of unusual December prairie fires in Montana, one of a series of late-season fires across the country amid an unusually warm approach to the winter season.

Montana wildfire update for December 01, 2021

By Jess Sheldahl, Kay Erickson, Edward O'Brien   12/02/21  
The town of Denton in Fergus County in central Montana is under an evacuation order because of a fast-moving wildfire.

Baucus says he’s hopeful about progress on climate change

By Corin Cates-Carney   10/29/21  
During a conversation about climate change held Thursday night at the University of Montana between former Vice President Al Gore and former Montana U.S. Senator Max Baucus, both men expressed hope.

Report: Impacts of climate change include drought

By Kit Tilly and Hillery Dailey   10/24/21  
We in the West are witness to the impacts of climate change. Montana and other Western states are now in unprecedented drought conditions.The National Integrated Drought Information System lists Ravalli County as being in severe…

How wildfire ‘burn scars’ threaten the West’s drinking water

By Sara Reardon  Photo: Forrest Czarnecki , Reuters   09/28/21  
Colorado saw its worst fire season last year, with the three largest fires in state history and more than 600,000 acres burned. But some of the effects didn’t appear until this July, when heavy rain…

Deadly train derailment in Montana exposes decrepit state of US infrastructure

By Niles Niemuth  Photo: Ted S. Warren , AP   09/28/21  
The derailment of an Amtrak passenger train in northern Montana Saturday, which killed three people and injured at least 50, is the latest in a string of accidents and disasters that are the result of…

Bozeman High School students join global climate strike

By Hannah Kearse   09/25/21  
Bozeman High School students walked out of school a little early Friday afternoon in protest.

MSU study: Climate change generating anxiety and distress for Montana farmers, ranchers

By Anne Cantrell  Photo: Kelly Gorham , MSU   09/23/21  
Montana State University released a study in April 2020 about how climate change is generating anxiety and distress for Montana farmers and ranchers.

Missoula, Helena, Bozeman ask MT delegation to support clean energy transition

By Martin Kidston  Photo: Martin Kidston , Missoula Current File   09/20/21  
Efforts to address climate change at the local level won’t go far unless Congress adopts national policies aimed at mitigation and frees up funding to pay for the efforts, several Montana cities and counties are…

Upcoming Summit Explores Clean Future for MT Energy

By Eric Tegethoff  Photo: Anatoliy - Gleb , Adobe Stock   09/15/21  
The Energy Future Summit will be held virtually Oct. 1, hosted by the Northern Plains Resource Council. Topics for sessions at the one-day summit will include a just transition to renewable energy and the role…

Climate change activists show up at Tester’s offices across the state

By Hannah Kearse   09/10/21  
Community members gathered on Bozeman’s Main Street for climate action at the federal level Thursday afternoon. Their message to U.S. Sen. Jon Tester was to support the transformation of the country’s energy infrastructure.

Ratepayers will get day in court over utility pre-approval

By Amanda Eggert  Photo: Eliza Wiley , MTFP   09/03/21  
Missoula District Court Judge Jason Marks ruled this week that a lawsuit challenging the state’s pre-approval statute can proceed. In his order, Marks denied NorthWestern Energy’s motion, which it filed with support from Montana Attorney…

Federal oil and gas leasing program back in play in Montana

By Amanda Eggert   09/02/21  
The federal government is moving forward with oil and gas leasing on 6,277 acres of Bureau of Land Management property in Montana following a judicial order directing the Department of the Interior to resume lease…

Does Greg Gianforte have a plan for climate change?

By Amanda Eggert  Photo: Ken Wabaunsee , Bureau of Indian Affairs   08/10/21  
Between an expansive drought bringing rivers and soil moisture to alarmingly low levels, a series of heat waves that have set scores of temperature records across the region, and a fast and furious start to…

Top US scientist on melting glaciers: ‘I’ve gone from being an ecologist to a coroner’

By Jyoti Madhusoodanan  Photo: Kent Meireis   07/21/21  
Diana Six’s love of the outdoors began before she could form words, run, or collect the bugs and fungi that were precious to her as a child. A tough home life eventually led her to…

Heavy smoke expected to linger above western Montana

07/16/21  
Smoke from wildfires across the U.S. West has wafted over large swaths of western Montana on Friday, leading to unhealthy air quality in Missoula and Frenchtown. The Montana Department of Environmental Quality recommends that active…

This Governor Withdrew From A Climate Pact. Days Later, He’s Pleading For Help With Drought.

By Chris D' Angelo   07/13/21  
Montana’s Republican governor has made it clear his state won’t be bothered to help in the fight against climate change. But he still wants federal assistance to deal with the climate impacts at Montana’s door.

Report: Climate Change at Yellowstone Threatens People, Wildlife

By Matt Alderton  Photo: Kevin McNeal , Getty Images   07/06/21  
“Beautiful.” “Gorgeous.” “Breathtaking.” “Magnificent.” These are just a few of the words that tourists often use to describe the splendor that is the Greater Yellowstone Area, comprising approximately 22 million acres of wilderness in northwestern…
AP

Justices deny Wyoming, Montana coal suit against Washington

By Mead Gruver  Photo: AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File   06/29/21  
The U.S. Supreme Court decided Monday that it won’t allow Wyoming and Montana to sue Washington state for denying a key permit to build a coal export dock that would have sent coal to Asia.…
Cnn

An eighth of the US population is sweltering under a record-breaking heat dome. Climate change is making it worse

By Pedram Javaheri , Judson Jones and Hannah Gard   06/16/21  
With upwards of 300 record-high temperatures in jeopardy this week, more than an eighth of the US population -- over 40 million people -- are on alert across the western US for a long-lasting, potentially lethal heat…

Montana and 16 other states want in on Youth Climate Change lawsuit

By Amanda Eggert   06/15/21  
Montana and 16 other states are asking to intervene in the Youth Climate Change lawsuit, an attempt by 21 youth activists to address climate change by compelling the federal government to transition away from fossil…

Montana State University faculty and students push for stronger climate action

By Liz Weber  Photo: Samuel Wilson , Report for America   06/11/21  
A decade has passed since Montana State University addressed its plan to combat climate change, despite a plan to review and update progress regularly.

Montana judge denies Biden administration’s request to delay coal leasing lawsuit

By Carson Mccullough   06/07/21  
A federal judge in Montana rebuffed efforts by the Biden administration to pause a lawsuit by several states, tribes and environmental groups seeking to end coal mining lease sales on federal land.

Name Change Refocuses MT Org on Wild Places of All Kinds

By Eric Tegethoff   06/04/21  
One of the country's oldest grassroots conservation groups is changing its name, and also broadening its mission.

How Returning Lands to Native Tribes Is Helping Protect Nature

By Jim Robbins  Photo: Dave Fitzpatrick , US Fish and Wildlife Service   06/03/21  
In 1908 the U.S. government seized some 18,000 acres of land from the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes to create the National Bison Range in the heart of their reservation in the mountain-ringed Mission Valley…

Climate activists challenge pre-approval of NorthWestern Energy gas plant

By Laura Lundquist   06/02/21  
Armed with a new report comparing various energy scenarios, Missoula-based 350 Montana has filed two complaints challenging a Montana Public Service Commission process that gives NorthWestern Energy the leeway to invest in resources that may…

The Cleanest Energy Is Also the Cheapest Energy

05/14/21  
That’s the headline of a new study, “Affordable and Reliable Decarbonization Pathways for Montana,” commissioned by 350 Montana. Blessed as we are with world-class hydroelectric, wind, and solar generation, Montana can retire its Colstrip coal…

Editorial: Attempts to prop up coal will be futile

By the Chronicle Editorial Board   05/07/21  
Montana and Wyoming find themselves increasingly isolated in what will ultimately be futile attempts to prop up a declining coal industry that seems doomed to go down in a flurry of ill-advised legislation and expensive…

Sustainable Missoula: The next generation of environmental problem solvers

By Cassie Sevigny  Photo by Cassie Sevigny   03/26/21  
I marched through snow up to my shins as I followed a handful of high school students, their teacher, Elana Selinger, along with Deb Fassnacht and Aissa Wise from the Watershed Education Network (WEN). McCauley…

Withholding energy assistance

By Jonathan Hettinger   03/26/21  
A bill that seeks to reverse $2.5 million in potential penalties on NorthWestern Energy for failing to help communities develop renewable energy projects is drawing criticism from environmental and tribal groups across Montana.

Montana joins suit to undo Biden pause on oil and gas lease sales

By Kevin McGill  Photo by Matthew Brown   03/24/21  
Montana is among 13 states that sued the Biden administration Wednesday to end a suspension of new oil and gas leases on federal land and water and to reschedule canceled sales of leases in the…

Coal cuts: Aging power plants, cheap natural gas shutting off Montana coal

By Tom Lutey  Photo by Larry Mayer   03/21/21  
It wasn’t the first time a Montana coal mine had gone bankrupt, but Decker Coal’s reason for calling it quits had never been stated so plainly.

Coal cuts: Aging power plants, cheap natural gas shutting off Montana coal

By Tom Lutey  Photo by Matthew Brown   03/21/21  
It wasn’t the first time a Montana coal mine had gone bankrupt, but Decker Coal’s reason for calling it quits had never been stated so plainly.

Texas, Montana Lead 21 GOP-Run States In Suing Biden Admin Over Keystone XL Suspension

By Siladitya Ray   03/18/21  
Texas and Montana led 19 other Republican-governed states in suing President Joe Biden and his administration over his decision to revoke the permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline, in the latest legal challenge mounted…

Missoula business goes all in on solar array as renewable energy future grows

By Martin Kidston   03/16/21  
While the city and county of Missoula take steps to achieve 100% clean electricity over the next decade, members of the private sector have set their own goals, and they’re willing to make the investment…

The giving trees

By Judy Fahys  Photo by Anthony South   03/12/21  
For Aaron Peterson, exploring the Yaak River and wandering the forests surrounding it is no more complicated than clipping on cross-country skis outside his front door.

Missoula County adopts energy efficient building policy, set to pursue green tariff

By Martin Kidston  Photo by Martin Kidston   03/12/21  
Keeping focus on its clean electricity goals and carbon reduction, Missoula County is moving forward with a number of new initiatives, from pursuing Montana’s first green tariff to a new policy on energy efficient buildings.

Nuclear on the radar: Part I

By Amanda Eggert   03/02/21  
Nuclear energy is having a moment in the Montana Legislature. With uncertainty surrounding the future of the state’s coal-fired power plants and the Biden administration’s aggressive targets for reducing fossil-fuel emissions to combat climate change,…

PSC sets terms for small renewable energy projects

By Tom Lutey  Photo by Casey Page   02/28/21  
The Montana Public Service Commission is starting to unwind renewable energy policies ruled unlawful by the state Supreme Court. Commissioners last week set 20-year contracts for renewable energy projects that qualify for favorable treatment under…

Montana cities working with NorthWestern Energy on clean power options

By David Erickson  Photo by Tom Bauer   02/11/21  
In an effort to reduce the climate-changing harm caused by fossil fuel pollution, a new plan from four Montana governments and others would allow NorthWestern Energy customers in Montana to eventually have the option to…

Conservation groups challenge DEQ approval of Keystone XL construction

By Amanda Eggert   01/07/21  
The Northern Plains Resource Council and Sierra Club have appealed a decision by the state of Montana that’s required in order for Keystone XL construction to move forward on its 295-mile route through eastern Montana.

EGEB: Montana gets its largest wind farm – by a shrinking coal plant

By Michelle Lewis   01/05/21  
Montana gets its largest wind farm as the state embraces renewables and moves away from coal. EV charging giant EVBox doubles its installed electric charge ports globally in just one year to 200,000.

Once-in-a-Decade Forest Plan Sets Sights On Wildfire, Disease And The Economy

By Nick Mott   01/04/21  
Before leaving office, Gov. Bullock finalized a document that will guide forestry and logging projects in Montana for the next decade. Montana Public Radio’s Nick Mott has more from just south of Livingston.

Sustainable Missoula: Rekindling our commitment to a brighter future

By Winona Bateman   01/04/21  
The Winter Solstice has always been an important milestone in my family led by my grandfather’s love of the natural world. More than ever, this year we welcomed the return of the light. Yet, as…

Missoula’s deadline for carbon neutrality looms as climate change presses in

By Jordan Unger   12/31/20  
Missoula put forth an ambitious plan to address climate change in 2013, setting the goal of carbon neutrality across the city by 2025. While progress has been made toward that goal, additional resources and effort…

Capturing 40 years of climate change for an endangered Montana prairie

12/23/20  
Over 40 years of monitoring, an endangered bunchgrass prairie became hotter, drier and more susceptible to fire annually -- but dramatic seasonal changes (not annual climate trends) seem to be driving the biggest changes in…

Montana priorities included in must-pass congressional bills

By Tom Lutey  Photo by Tom Bauer   12/21/20  
Several Montana-specific pieces of legislation are included in must-pass bills being voted on by Congress in the next 24 hours. A long-awaited $1.9 billion settlement for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, plus a return…

Bozeman, Other Local Governments Lead Clean Energy Effort

By Associated Press   12/21/20  
Officials from three cities in Montana have united in pushing for more renewable energy sources in the state. The local governments in Bozeman, Missoula and Helena started an effort to establish a subscriber-based green tariff…

‘Leadership is coming from the cities:’ Bozeman among local governments leading push for clean energy in Montana

By Nora Shelly  Photo by Rachel Leathe   12/20/20  
Three of Montana’s major cities are a united front in pushing for more renewable energy sources in the state. Bozeman, Missoula and Helena are part of an effort to establish a subscriber-based green tariff program…

Study: More homes are burning in fire-prone areas of Montana

By Laura Lundquis  Photo by MTN NEWS   12/18/20  
As people build more houses in Montana’s wildland-urban interface, more homes have burned and will burn in wildfires unless homeowners take precautions.