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Montana seeks public input on environmental policy 

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Mark Moran

(Big Sky Connection) The Montana Department of Environmental Quality wants to know what people think the state's next Environmental Policy Act should include. Critics claim the state is using the public input process as a stall tactic to avoid implementing important environmental rules now.

The DEQ's move is a response to a judge's high-profile decision earlier this year supporting young climate activists who claimed Montana's fossil-fuels policy violates their constitutional right to a clean and healthy environment.

Derf Johnson, deputy director of the Montana Environmental Information Center, said the state DEQ was ordered to get public comment as it drafts the state's environmental policy as a condition of the court case, known as Held v. Montana.

"A court decision that basically ordered the State of Montana to actually evaluate and consider climate change as part of its permitting process," he said. "A stable climate is part of that right to a clean, healthful environment that we're guaranteed here in Montana."

Johnson argued that while public input is crucial, the state could be implementing key parts of the act now, and the public input process will delay enacting important parts of it.

Johnson said he thinks some of the most critical input will be about the effects of oil and gas leases, coal mines and power plants. He added that Montana could easily implement a tool the federal government has been using "for quite some time now, through a tool called the 'social cost of carbon.' That tool has precedent in terms of how it's implemented, case law surrounding it. That's something that they could have been implementing years ago. "

The DEQ has scheduled three public input sessions and is considering adding a fourth. It has also established an online public comment portal through December 1.