Members of the Montana Climate Solutions Council sent a letter to Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte Aug. 11 urging him to engage with a plan they released last year to help Montana achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

The 29-member council was appointed by former Gov. Steve Bullock in 2019 and tasked with developing recommendations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, prepare communities for the impacts of a changing climate, and leverage existing tools and systems in Montana to develop innovative solutions to combat climate change.

The council released the fruit of its labor last fall, a 37-page document that issues 50 recommendations ranging from exploring opportunities for passenger rail to investigating the use of microgrids and heat pump technology.

Council member Chuck Magraw, a Helena-based attorney who works on energy issues for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the letter writers wanted to give Gianforte time to get his administration in order before pressing him on the recommendations, but that seven months into the job, the governor doesn’t appear to have engaged with the plan or the council.

“As far as I know, there’s been no follow-up on any aspect of the plan by the Gianforte administration,” Magraw told Montana Free Press. “We understand that the Gianforte administration wants to [and] needs to develop its own approach and priorities. That’s perfectly fine and appropriate, but given the crisis we’re undergoing, and given that they have this resource here, namely the plan, let’s take advantage of it.”

In an emailed comment of the letter, Gianforte spokesperson Brooke Stroyke said the governor appreciates the council’s collaborative approach, the contributions of each council member, and its completion of the report. 

“The governor will continue to consider the council’s recommendations, as well as the ideas of all Montanans, as he [addresses] climate change by focusing on promoting American innovation, not imposing burdensome, job-killing government mandates,” Stroyke said.

Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation Director John Tubbs, left, listens as Montana AFL-CIO Executive Secretary Al Ekblad urges fellow members of the Climate Solutions Council to address the impacts of greenhouse gas emission reductions on the state’s labor force in Jan. 2020. Credit: Alex Sakariassen / Montana Free Press

Magraw said the council’s recommendations “mean absolutely nothing” without action and pointed out that the vast majority enjoyed unanimous support among the politically diverse council members. A number of nonprofits, corporations and industry groups were represented on the council, including the Montana Chamber of Commerce, Montana State University, Sierra Club, the Montana Petroleum Association, NorthWestern Energy, the Montana Renewable Energy Association, and the Montana AFL-CIO. The council included 29 people from the private and nonprofit sectors, as well as 11 ex-officio members representing various state agencies. Nineteen council members signed the letter.

There are a number of recommendations that are strikingly obvious and totally non-controversial. To not act on those just seems like a total wasted opportunity,” Magraw said.

Amy Cilimburg, executive director of Climate Smart Missoula, said that the plan was designed to be applied across multiple arenas, including the public and private sectors, but that many of the recommendations require “strong state leadership.”

“We really want to jump-start a conversation and figure out how some of these recommendations can move forward,” she said. “It’s a huge transition to change our energy systems and to adapt to be more resilient in the face of climate change. There’s urgency to it and it needs really strong leadership.”

She said this summer’s heat waves, drought, wildfire and air quality concerns, paired with the Aug. 9 release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s most recent report, have driven home the need for swift action.

The letter to Gianforte says the IPCC’s report “states in stark terms and with certainty that humans are fueling climate change, and we must act immediately.”

In a press release about the letter’s issuance, the signatories highlight specific climate change impacts outlined in the 2017 Montana Climate Assessment, which illustrates how Montana’s climate has changed and explores projections driven by climate models.

According to that report, Montana’s temperatures are an average of two to three degrees Fahrenheit warmer than they were in 1950, and the state could experience an additional increase of three to seven degrees by the middle of this century.

The assessment also found that a warming climate means Montana’s snowpack is melting earlier in the year, leading to earlier peak spring runoff in rivers. That dynamic drives a number of downstream concerns, ranging from water availability and warming stream temperatures to flooding. The assessment also noted that higher temperatures, insect and disease mortality and high fuel loads from decades of fire suppression are driving increases in the size and possibly frequency and severity of wildfires.

As of Aug. 12, 1,980  wildfires have burned 742,910 acres across the state, and two emergency declarations are in place: one for drought issued July 1 and another for wildfire on July 14. 

Last month Gianforte withdrew the state from the U.S. Climate Alliance, a nonpartisan coalition of states committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by achieving the goals laid out in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

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Billings native Amanda Eggert covers environmental issues for MTFP. Amanda is a graduate of the University of Montana School of Journalism who has written for Outside magazine and Outlaw Partners. At Outlaw Partners she led coverage for the biweekly newspaper Explore Big Sky. Contact Amanda at aeggert@montanafreepress.org.