The Montana Department of Environmental Quality announced earlier this month that it has received a $3 million federal grant to generate a plan to reduce Montana’s greenhouse gas emissions. Now DEQ is asking the public to suggest shovel-ready projects to incorporate into that plan. More specifically, DEQ is seeking information about projects that could be candidates for support from the Climate Pollution Reduction Grant, a newly launched federal program that has billions of dollars at its disposal.
During a meeting in Helena on Oct. 23, DEQ Public Policy Director Rebecca Harbage said the agency is “listening on purpose” for climate change solutions that should be included in the plan, which will serve as a blueprint for future grant applications.
“We don’t believe Helena has every answer, and we take our job very seriously,” Harbage said, adding that DEQ is soliciting ideas for projects with a “Montana-sized footprint” that take a “non-regulatory, innovative, voluntary approach” to combating climate change.
As Montana’s top executive, Gianforte has the ability to influence energy policy and set statewide targets for emissions that experts say are significant contributors to the drought, heat waves and wildfires ravaging the West this summer. The actions he takes or doesn’t take during his time in office will help define the state’s role in addressing those impacts.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is funding both the Montana planning process and future greenhouse gas-reducing projects outlined in it, provided that applicants put forth successful pitches. The most competitive applications will substantially decrease greenhouse gas emissions, work in concert with other funding sources, and clearly demonstrate community benefits, particularly in low-income or disadvantaged areas, according to DEQ Air Quality Bureau Chief Bo Wilkins. According to the EPA, a broad range of conditions could categorize a community as “disadvantaged,” including environmental justice concerns, rural characteristics, or a history of “traditional energy” development.
All told, the Climate Pollution Reduction Grant program, which was authorized by the Inflation Reduction Act Congress passed in August 2022, includes $4.6 billion of competitive grant funding for projects. How that money will be distributed depends on the kinds of projects that apply. DEQ anticipates that most of the projects the EPA elects to fund will fall in the $2-$10 million and $10-$50 million ranges.
“These are significant pots of money, so a great opportunity to bring funds into the state,” Wilkins said at the Oct. 23 meeting.
Wilkins also highlighted challenges associated with the process, namely rapidly approaching deadlines and restrictions governing what kinds of entities are eligible to apply.
In order to meet its March 1 deadline for submitting its climate plan to the EPA, DEQ is asking potentially interested entities to provide initial information to the agency by Jan. 5 to help it meet the program’s “very tight timelines,” Wilkins said.
The ruling by Lewis and Clark District Court Judge Kathy Seeley is the first legal opinion of its kind, spelling out the environmental harm caused by greenhouse gas emissions as well as the effects of climate change on the physical and mental well-being of young people.
House Bill 971 bars state regulators like the Montana Department of Environmental Quality from including analyses of greenhouse gas emissions and climate impacts, both within and outside Montana’s borders, when conducting comprehensive reviews of large projects.
Per EPA sideboards, the disbursements can go only to a governmental agency or a coalition that includes a governmental entity. Such entities could include a state agency such as the DEQ, a county government or a city government. Tribal governments are also eligible, Harbage said, noting that four tribal governments in Montana applied for and received planning grants similar to the one DEQ received. They include the Chippewa Cree Indians of the Rocky Boy’s Reservation, the Northern Cheyenne, the Blackfeet, and the Fort Peck Reservation’s Assiniboine and Sioux tribes.
During the question-and-answer period that followed DEQ’s presentation, members of the public suggested a wide range of projects that DEQ might consider incorporating in its plan, ranging from solar panel installations on school rooftops to expansion of existing programs that provide homeowners with no- or low-interest loans for renewable energy installations. Electrifying city vehicle fleets, providing rebates for e-bike purchases and transitioning to energy-efficient LED lighting were also discussed.
One attendee recommended that DEQ consider partnering with Montana State University researchers to explore ways to reduce farmers’ reliance on fertilizers. Agriculture is one of Montana’s largest industries and the leading contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, according to a 2021 analysis included in DEQ’s presentation. Another attendee referenced the state’s No. 2 carbon-emitting industry, electricity generation, with a nascent proposal that seeks to pair hydrogen production and nuclear energy with carbon capture at the Colstrip coal-fired power plant.
Asked if DEQ’s plan will incorporate recommendations made by the Montana Climate Solutions Council, appointed by former Gov. Steve Bullock in 2019, Harbage said the agency has reviewed existing climate planning material in the state’s possession.
“I think any climate efforts that have taken place to date are open,” she said, underscoring DEQ’s preference for a non-regulatory, innovative, voluntary approach.
Harbage also noted that DEQ has recently hired a coordinator to facilitate the planning and grant application process.
Since a homeless shelter was cleared out in November just outside of the Helena city limits, new camps made up of tents and tarps have popped up within the city parks, on sidewalks and in alleyways, sparking community concerns about public safety while also highlighting the growing unsheltered crisis.
Before Tim Sheehy was the frontrunner in Montana’s Republican primary for U.S. Senate, the ex-Navy SEAL, aerial firefighter, millionaire business owner, part-time rancher and occasional political donor was a 2004 graduate of a Minneapolis-St. Paul area private high school who grew up in a lake house outside Minnesota’s Twin Cities.
Missoula author Debra Magpie Earling carried the seeds of a story about Sacajewea for years. When she walked away from teaching at the University of Montana, she finally made the mental space to bring it to fruition. The result is this year’s “The Lost Journals of Sacajewea.” Earling talks about imagination and history with MTFP…