50 years … and still waiting for our ‘inalienable right’ to a ‘clean and healthful environment’
Stickers that citizens wore to urge Yellowstone County Commissioners to deny a permit to NorthWestern Energy for a natural gas pipeline for a proposed plant in Laurel, Montana (Photo by Darrell Ehrlick of the Daily Montanan).
Kudos to the Montana Environmental Information Center and Earthjustice for their recent court victory challenging the adequacy of the state’s pitiful permitting process for NorthWestern Energy’s Laurel natural gas power plant.
Once again, a judge has found Montana’s mis-named Department of Environmental Quality guilty of cutting corners, ignoring and misinterpreting state law, and shuffling off another permit for a major polluter with a wink and a nod. As he put it bluntly: “DEQ granted the air permit … that dismissed some of the plant’s most troubling impacts with minimal analysis, improperly deferred others for future consideration and overlooked some harm entirely.”
Montanans should be grateful the Court sent the permit back to DEQ to address those glaring oversights. But on one of the most significant concerns – namely Montanans’ constitutionally guaranteed “inalienable right” to a “clean and healthful environment” – the judge decided the issue would not be “ripe” until after the state had finished the new environmental analysis.
“Inalienable” means it can’t be taken away – and “maintain and improve” does not mean degrade and remediate. Yet, for 50 years since Montana’s citizens ratified the 1972 Constitution and rebutted the brutal corporate corruption and destruction of the Copper Kings, we have done anything but “maintain and improve.”
Consider that virtually all of the defunct open-pit mines that continue to pollute our lands and waters were permitted since the Constitution was written. Colstrip didn’t exist – and now it’s headed to join those abandoned mines as another Superfund site thanks to the failure to “maintain and improve” the state’s environment by its permitting agencies. Libby’s deadly asbestosis, Columbia Falls aluminum plant, Golden Sunlight’s cyanide leakage and many, many more environmental tragedies all took place after the Constitution was adopted.
A half-century is a long time to wait for something to “ripen” before the courts say “enough is enough” and force the Legislature and state’s permitting agencies to follow their constitutional mandates. The Legislature won’t do it and the governors won’t do it – which means it’s up to the judiciary to enforce our Constitution’s mandate to “maintain and improve” our environment for “present and future generations.”
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