Audience may be restricted for greenhouse-gas bill

A bill that would require Montana to monitor and report its production of greenhouse gas emissions may not get a full hearing due to a capitol room swap.

This Wednesday, Sen. Mike Phillips, D- Bozeman, was scheduled to present Senate Bill 190 to the Senate Natural Resources committee. Recognizing that climate change is worsening and will cause hardship for many Montanans from farmers to fishing guides, the bill would direct the Board of Environmental Review to develop rules for reducing and capping greenhouse gas emissions in the state.

However, late on Friday, Phillips learned there might be a change of plans. Natural Resources committee chair Chas Vincent, R-Libby, announced that the committee, which normally meets in the old Supreme Court Chambers, would meet in a smaller room on Wednesday. Vincent said he promised the House Transportation committee it could use the large chamber room for a hearing on House Bill 473, an extensive bill revising highway funding.

Phillips reminded Vincent about his bill and said several people had planned to testify on SB190. Vincent said he had promised the room switch but could change his mind. Then he adjourned the meeting, leaving the situation up in the air.

Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane are produced primarily by the production and burning of coal, oil and natural gas. The molecules, which have been trapped in the earth for millennia, gather in the upper atmosphere trapping heat that used to escape into space.

Since 1990, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions have increased by about 7 percent a year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In 2014, almost one-third of greenhouse gases produced in the U.S. came from electricity production. In Montana, the main source would be the Colstrip power plants. Almost a quarter came from transportation sources such as planes, trucks and cars, and another 21 percent was produced by industry.

Meanwhile, the effects of climate change continue to accelerate, giving a glimpse of devastation to come, because they affect crops, water supplies and stress infrastructure and disproportionately harm the elderly and the poor. This winter, California has undergone a deluge of winter storms, causing the overspill channel of the Oroville Dam to deteriorate. Oklahoma has broken high temperature records for February, hitting 100 degrees, while Denver, Colo., logged a record 80-degree day on Feb. 10. People and wildlife are dying in Australia due to a record heat wave. The North pole has been 50 degrees warmer than normal this winter, and polar ice is melting at record rates, causing sea level to rise and flood cities such as Miami, Florida.

The EPA has tracked U.S. greenhouse gas emissions for decades but now faces an uncertain future under the Trump administration. Scott Pruitt was sworn in as the EPA administrator on Friday and some are worried that he will dismantle parts of the EPA, particularly those dealing with climate change. As the former attorney general for Oklahoma, Pruitt regularly disputed the existence of climate change as he sued the EPA to fight the regulation of fracking in his state.

SB190 would have Montana join other states tracking their contribution to greenhouse gases regardless of whether EPA scientists were allowed to monitor emissions. For that reason, 22 senators have signed on as co-sponsors. But it’s bound to get pushback from fossil fuel lobbyists and GOP legislators.