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Public Service Commission extends climate petition comment period

The Montana Public Service Commission voted Tuesday to reopen comment on a petition aimed at integrating climate impacts into the commission's regulatory work.

Following the Commission's 4-1 vote, the public has until July 1 to comment on the petition calling on regulators to adopt a framework for considering climate impacts when overseeing monopoly energy companies.

At the recommendation of agency staff, commissioners will also take a closer look at mechanisms for implementing the social cost of greenhouse gas emissions, a framework used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Measure “the net social benefit” of reducing emissions and the costs of allowing them to increase. To better understand how the proposed rules would impact the Commission's work, PSC staff have prepared a list of approximately 20 questions that they will ask petitioners.

Forty-one businesses and nonprofits filed the petition with the PSC, seven months after a state judge found in the youth climate lawsuit Held v. Montana that the climate is part of the environment and therefore subject to the “clean and healthy environment” protections enshrined in it the Constitution of Montana. Petitioners include nonprofits such as the Montana Environmental Information Center and Families for a Livable Climate, as well as businesses such as Bridger Bowl Ski Area and Parks' Fly Shop in Gardiner.

Earlier this month, petition signers and supporters packed into the PSC chambers in Helena to urge the state's elected utilities board to analyze the damage done by greenhouse gas-emitting power plants while regulating monopolistic utilities like NorthWestern Energy and Montana Dakota Utilities. Proponents of the initiative cited the Held v. Montana ruling, the commission's statutory directive to act in the public interest, and the impact of climate change on their livelihoods and recreational heritage in their comments.

During the April 8 hearing, commissioners also heard from opponents. Some, like NorthWestern Energy and the Montana Chamber of Commerce, argued this way Adopting new rules to take climate impacts into account could make electricity more expensive and less reliable for Montana utilities — and, in turn, their customers. Others, including the CO2 Coalition, a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating people about “the important contribution of carbon dioxide to our lives and the economy,” argued that the types of climate impacts the petitioners cited in their application, e.g. B. decreasing snow cover does not actually occur. Still others, like the AFL-CIO, a workers' union, said they were not debating whether the climate was changing, only what the petition meant for workers who rely on high-paying fossil fuel jobs to support themselves and theirs to feed families.

During their meeting on Tuesday, the commissioners made a passing reference to commenters' arguments during the April 8 meeting.

PSC President James Brown said he had questions about how the petitioners' proposed rules would work in practice.

“Given the level of public interest in this issue, I believe it is prudent to reopen the public comment period to give our staff and commissioners the opportunity to ask questions, which we were unable to do during the public hearing on this issue.” , he said.

District 5 Commissioner Ann “Annie” Bukacek, of Kalispell, described the petition as an attempt to give the commission authority, which is technically part of the Montana Legislature. The commission is intended to be a body of economic, not environmental, regulators, she said.

“The social cost of greenhouse gases metric is at least controversial and therefore has no place in the PSC decisions if we want to be objective arbiters,” Bukacek continued, calling on the commissioners to reject the petition rather than spend more time reviewing it .

District 2 Commissioner Tony O'Donnell of Billings said he is inclined to agree with Bukacek's assessment, but believes Montanans' constitutional right to participate in government requires the commission to review the details of the proposed Rulemaking examined in more detail.

Staff counted more than 500 comments on the petition, and several commissioners said they fielded phone calls and emails from constituents leading up to the start of the day's session.

In the coming weeks, PSC staff will seek additional information on a variety of issues related to the rulemaking petition. These questions include whether the social cost of greenhouse gas emissions should be taken into account in the 'tariff-setting process', in which the Commission takes a position on a utility company's proposed tariff increases; whether a similar framework should be used to regulate natural gas services; and whether the petitioners are asking the Commission to go beyond analysis and adopt rules directing them to favor lower-emission energy sources in regulatory decisions.

Written public comments may be submitted in person or by mail to the Public Service Commission at its Helena office or by email at [email protected]. Comments can also be submitted to the Commission's automated document management system, REDDI. Instructions for submitting comments through REDDI can be found at psc.mt.gov/reddi-help.

This story originally appeared in the Montana Free Press, found online at montanafreepress.org.

Anna Harden

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