Judge orders halt to construction of NorthWestern power plant in Laurel

Construction of NorthWestern Energy’s gas-fired power plant in Laurel has been ordered halted by a judge’s ruling Thursday that state regulators ignored environmental risks when permitting the facility in 2021.

Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality “failed to take a hard look concerning two environmental issues,” ruled District Judge Michael Moses. The impacts of the gas-fired power plant’s emissions of greenhouse gases received no consideration by DEQ, Moses concluded. Light pollution from the power plant was the second issue, of which DEQ did little analysis.

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Following its court-ordered hard look, the DEQ will have to decide whether permitting the plant warrants a detailed environmental impact statement, or the lighter touch of an environmental assessment.

“This power plant is one of NorthWestern Energy’s largest projects in Montana and it is up-wind of the largest city in Montana. It will dump nearly 770,000 tons of greenhouse gases per year into the air,” Moses wrote.

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“The pristine Yellowstone River is adjacent to the project. This project will have a life of more than 30 years.

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