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Judge again halts construction of NW Energy gas plant in Laurel

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Posted at 9:32 PM, Apr 06, 2023

BILLINGS - A state judge Thursday halted construction of NorthWestern Energy's natural gas-fired plant in Laurel, ordering Montana regulators to conduct a more thorough review of the plant's environmental impact.

The 35-page ruling from Yellowstone County District Judge Michael Moses was a victory for landowners near the project along Thiel Road south of Laurel, who filed suit in October 2021.

Moses ruled that the Montana Department of Environmental Quality failed to take a "hard look" at the environmental impacts of the 175-megawatt plant on two fronts: greenhouse gas emissions and lighting.

DEQ conducted no analysis on greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change, which is a violation of the Montana Environmental Protection Act, according to Moses.

NorthWestern, the state's largest utility, announced in 2021 that it would seek to build the plant on the northern bank of the Yellowstone River because it needed to meet the rising demand for power across the region.

The plant quickly ran into opposition from area landowners and environmental groups, who were concerned about dangers to air and water quality.

Opponents scored an earlier victory when Moses ordered Yellowstone County to withdraw its building permitbecause public notification was not adequately provided. The permit was later refiled and approved by county commissioners.

Read the full ruling below: