Judge rules laws supporting Montana coal plant illegal

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) – A U.S. magistrate has declared unconstitutional two Montana laws that sought to prevent a coal-fired power plant from shutting down by subjecting its out-of-state owners to heavy fines if they failed to pay maintenance to long term and operating costs.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Kathleen DeSoto said the state actions violate free trade provisions of the U.S. Constitution and federal laws designed to prevent states from interfering in private agreements, The Billings Gazette reported.

Puget Sound Energy, Avista Corp., Portland General Electric and PacificCorp are the majority owners of the Colstrip power plant in southeastern Montana. Their home states of Washington and Oregon are phasing out the use of coal-generated electricity for climate reasons – Washington in late 2025 and Oregon in early 2030.

Utilities have previously opposed paying for repairs to extend the life of Colstrip beyond when they can sell the power.

Talen Montana and NorthWestern Energy, which do not face coal power bans, own the rest of the plant and want it to stay open.

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The disputed laws were passed by the Republican-controlled Montana Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Greg Gianforte in 2021.

According to one law, if a co-owner refuses to share operating costs or takes action resulting in the shutdown of a power-generating facility without the consent of all co-owners, it would be considered an “unfair or deceptive business practice”. “. “As such, the Montana Attorney General could issue fines of up to $100,000 per day.

The other law required that any disagreement over the operation of the plant be arbitrated in Montana.

Most of Colstrip’s energy is used in Washington State.

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