-Martin Kidston reporting for the Missoula Current
Two years after its formation, the U.S. Climate Alliance will gain its 25th state partner and its third in the Rocky Mountain West under a pledge made on Monday by Montana Gov. Steve Bullock.
Bullock, more than midway through his second term in office and a Democratic presidential candidate, committed to joining Montana to the alliance during a livestream that included the rollout of an executive order on climate change.
“How we choose to respond to these changes and challenges offers really pivotal support to both safeguard our traditional strengths and diversify and grow new opportunities for our future,” he said.
Bullock’s executive order creates what he described as a diverse council of stakeholders from across a number of sectors, including energy and research, local governments and environmental groups.
The council will be charged with developing recommendations to achieve climate action on four specific fronts, including eventual carbon neutrality.
“The council will take a hard look at the challenge and opportunities of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, including an interim goal to create carbon neutrality for our electrical sector by no later than 2035,” Bullock said.
“This work will help all of us in the state better understand the changes we need to make to prepare for the future, and to help us also understand how we can continue to contribute to regional market opportunities.”
The council will also work with the Governor’s Office and state agencies to integrate climate change information and projections into state planning and support for local governments. It also will coordinate with the university system to explore new technologies and foster climate solutions.
“We’ll work to build a portfolio of activities to support research, development, commercialization and workforce needs to ensure we continue to generate quality jobs and a competitive advantage through our response,” Bullock said. “We’ll work on being a leader in innovative solutions, such as battery storage and renewable technology.”
Bullock made the announcement during a streaming town hall while seated with three younger Montanans, each engaged on the climate front. Bullock didn’t clearly answer one question on where he stands on the Keystone XL pipeline, though he did talk at length about solar and wind energy and a shift to a greener economy.
During his six years in office, Bullock said, Montana has doubled its wind capacity and quadrupled its solar capacity. Interest in the state’s renewable capabilities continue to grow, he said.
“We’re already seeing more interest than what we have,” he said. “Puget (Sound) Energy is looking at the opportunities we have here. We have great potential. We have to find markets for the wind in Montana and beyond our state’s borders. By working with regional partners, we’re seeing some real interest and greater opportunity.”
Bullock asked Monday’s panel members what role they believe government must play in solving the world’s climate crisis. Valen Anthos of Missoula said it should play a significant role.
“Climate change presents such a big problem on a global and national scale that we need a lot of coordination,” Anthos told the governor. “It’s in all of our best interest to do it, so we need that basic framework to operate it. I’d like to see it really supporting local community-led efforts and creating new opportunities.”
Missoula remains the first and largest city in Montana to take substantial aim at climate change. In 2014, it asked the Montana Department of Environmental Quality to hold public hearings in Missoula on the proposed Otter Creek Mine and Tongue River Railroad.
It also crafted a Conservation and Climate Action Plan shortly after an inventory on greenhouse gas emissions in 2009. Just this spring, both city and county government adopted a far-reaching resolution to kick fossil fuels and achieve 100 percent clean electricity across the urban area by 2030.
The resolution also aligned Missoula with more than 110 cities across the U.S. that have taken similar steps to address climate change. Bullock said such efforts are growing.
“Cities, towns and tribal nations have already taken steps to advance climate action plans unique to their needs,” he said. “I’m also committing to join the U.S. Climate Alliance, making Montana the 25th state to do so. It offers us an opportunity to learn from others as they craft their own policy efforts.
In its 2018 report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that continued planetary warning will cause widespread impacts on ecosystems and human health, possibly jeopardizing the planet’s natural order, including the food and water needed to support human civilization.
The Montana Climate Assessment also determined that western Montana will see landscape-scale changes due to higher annual temperatures, hotter summers, less snow, an earlier runoff, and frequent flooding and fires.
“Our state needs and indeed, our entire nation needs, Montana-focused solutions now more than ever,” said Bullock. “It’s an ambitious and comprehensive agenda. We’re not starting from scratch. We have great progress to build from.”