Montana governor Greg Gianforte last week signed into law H.B. 273, which transfers the power to authorize the construction of nuclear power facilities in the state from the public, via referendum, to the legislature. The new measure overturns the Montana Empowering Voters to Approve Proposed Nuclear Facilities Initiative, which had been on the books since 1978.
Sponsored by Rep. Derek Skees (R., Kalispell), H.B. 273 passed in the Montana Senate on April 15 by a vote of 30–20, following a 68–32 nod from the House in February. Both votes were cast largely along party lines, with Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed.
Arguing for the legislation earlier this year, Skees suggested that removing the decision-making power from the public and placing it instead with state lawmakers would help avoid the “circus of modern media” and allow for more deliberative discussions, according to a February 12 report from Montana’s Independent Record.
In case you missed it: Last month, the Montana House approved a joint resolution—sponsored by Sen. Terry Gauthier (R., Helena)—calling for the creation of a legislative panel to study the feasibility of replacing the coal-fired units at the state’s Colstrip power plant with advanced small modular reactors. (Two of Colstrip’s four coal boilers were permanently closed in January 2020, and most energy-sector observers expect the remaining two units to be retired within the next few years.) The resolution cleared the House 78–30 on April 21, after having been unanimously passed by the Senate in February.
The following week, the resolution was filed with the Montana secretary of state. (Joint resolutions do not require the governor’s signature.) The panel’s coal-to-nuclear study needs to be concluded by September 15, 2022.