August 18, 2023
Would the weather in Montana change tomorrow if the state suddenly shut down all of its coal mines, natural gas power plants, and oil refineries? Any honest scientist would tell you no.
But according to a far-left state judge, the wealthiest children in Montana will suddenly be able to ski again if the state’s Department of Environmental Quality stops issuing new permits for infrastructure projects that use fossil fuels.
The ruling is abjectly absurd, but there are dozens more cases like it in federal and state courts across the country. If any of them were to be confirmed on appeal, it would be disastrous for the economy.
The plaintiffs in Montana include 16 children who claim they have experienced “fear,” “distress,” “a sense of loss,” and “despair” because of climate change. Some of these poor dears lament that they haven’t been able to ski, paddleboard, or kayak as much as they otherwise would have if it were not so hot outside. Is your heart bleeding for them?
These children claim that Montana’s Constitution, which guarantees residents “the right to a clean and beautiful environment,” conflicts with the Montana Environmental Policy Act, which since 2011 prevents state officials from considering “actual or potential impacts beyond Montana’s borders” when approving permits for infrastructure projects. The legislature further clarified the law after the suit was filed, making it explicit that consideration of “greenhouse gas emissions and corresponding impact to the climate” is not allowed.
If only the Montana Environmental Policy Act forced the Department of Environmental Quality to consider carbon emissions when approving a new road or power plant, the plaintiffs’ reason, then fewer projects would be approved, less carbon would be emitted, and their lives would be better.
This is a fairy tale. Just look at the science.
Let’s say the plaintiffs get their way and the DEQ not only started disapproving every construction permit in Montana, but also required every power plant, oil refinery, and coal mine to shut down. Zero carbon emissions from the entire state of Montana tomorrow.
What would happen to the climate?
Even if the entire world stopped emitting all carbon tomorrow, the climate would still get warmer for decades. But the world isn’t going to stop emitting carbon tomorrow. Nor will it even cut carbon in half by 2030. China is adding two coal power plants a week, and it already emits almost 12 billion metric tons of carbon a year, double the United States’s 5.6 billion. The U.S. emits just 14% of the world’s carbon and Montana makes up less than 1% of that total. Eliminating all Montana’s carbon emissions wouldn’t affect the climate at all.
When the judge concludes that Montana’s carbon emissions “have been proven to be a substantial factor in causing climate impacts,” she is talking nonsense. There is no scientific foundation for her statement. Without evidence showing that lowering Montana’s carbon output would change the climate in Montana, the plaintiffs have no case.
But while decarbonizing Montana overnight would do nothing to affect the climate, it would devastate Montana’s economy. Montana has 5,000 gas wells, 4,000 oil wells, four oil refineries, and six coal mines. All these businesses and their employees would be out of work and every Montanan that relied on the energy from them would see their energy costs rise.
The reality is that Montana is doing just fine without leftist judges trying to halt infrastructure projects. Under the law that the judge wants to overturn, Montana generates 53% of its electricity from renewables, which places the state 10th best in the nation.
Montanans love the outdoors, which is why the state already has strong environmental protections for air and water quality. Its legislators balance the costs of environmental regulation with economic growth — these are, obviously, political decisions — and we’re certain Montana’s appeals court will see it that way.