If Billings Republican Rep. Mike Lange gets his way, nearly all new energy projects in the state will be immune to lawsuits, exempt from environmental review laws, and authorized to confiscate private property.
Those are just a few of the reasons opponents are calling House Bill 405 the worst bill of the 2007 legislative session.
“I have been lobbying for 13 years and I’ve never seen anything like this,” says Anne Hedges, program director for the Montana Environmental Information Center. “This bill is the worst bill we’ve seen on environmental issues in a decade.”
Lange’s bill defines nearly all energy projects—excepting nuclear—as “clean and green,” including coal-fired power plants, oil refineries and pipelines. Any project meeting Lange’s “clean and green” designation would be exempt from the Montana Environmental Policy Act and the Major Facilities Siting Act, two state laws requiring extensive public review of environmental impacts associated with energy projects.
Proponents of HB 405 say it cuts through unnecessary regulatory red tape and fends off obstructionist litigators.
“We’ve all heard the arguing, the debates and the clamor over…energy development. We’ve heard every possible spin under the sun as to how and why and when are we going to do it. Well, this is a bill that gives us a chance to do it,” Lange said in his opening testimony before the House Federal Relations, Energy and Telecommunications Committee on Jan. 31.
Hedges says that despite what she sees as a flagrant attempt by industry to roll over environmental protections and undermine property rights, she expects the bill will pass in the House before dying in the Senate.
“I cannot imagine this bill would become law,” she says. “It is so outrageous.”