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MEPA Madness

The 61st Montana legislature has generated a bevy of bogus and bad bills designed to evade, eviscerate or emasculate the Montana Environmental Policy Act (MEPA). Bills such as SB440, SB417, SB481 and SB529 seek to directly change or circumvent MEPA rules. Other bills (HB483, SB387) merely want to bypass any environmental review whatsoever. In this context, the Bugle editorial staff thought this might be an appropriate time for a brief review this heinous legislation to see if we can determine just why this particular set of laws draws so much ire from development and industrial interests.

In 1971, just prior to the Montana Constitutional Convention, the legislature enacted MEPA (150 to 1). Some of the language in MEPA even wound up in the new constitution. Constitutional Article II, section 3 guarantees to every Montana citizen the “right to a clean and healthful environment and the rights of pursuing life’s basic necessities...”  This language came almost directly from MEPA which stated that, “The legislature recognizes that each person is entitled to a healthful environment, that each person is entitled to use and enjoy that person’s private property free of undue government regulation, that each person has the right to pursue life’s basic necessities, and that each person has a responsibility to contribute to the preservation and enhancement of the environment.

As stated in the MEPA law, section 75-1-102 (2), “The purpose of [MEPA] is to declare a state policy that will encourage productive and enjoyable harmony between humans and their environment, to protect the right to use and enjoy private property free of undue government regulation, to promote efforts that will prevent or eliminate damage to the environment and biosphere and stimulate the health and welfare of humans, to enrich the understanding of the ecological systems and natural resources important to the state, and to establish an environmental quality council.”

Patterned after the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, “MEPA requires state agencies to conduct thorough, honest, unbiased, and scientifically based full disclosure of all relevant facts concerning impacts on the human environment that may result from agency actions.” This analysis usually takes the form of an EA or EIS which does things like describe the need for a proposal, explain the agency’s proposal, discuss other options, analyze potential consequences to the environment and discuss procedures for minimizing adverse impacts. MEPA requires that state agencies tell the public that an action is pending, seek public comment on the action, prepare the EIS, request public comment on the EIS and inform the public of the agency’s decision and the justification for that decision. And other heavy-handed stuff like that.flying_a_ad

Describing the purpose of MEPA, in 1998, the Environmental Quality Council stated that “MEPA is not an act that controls or sets regulations for any specific land or resource use. It is not a preservation, wilderness, or antidevelopment act. It is not a device for preventing industrial or agricultural development. If implemented correctly and efficiently, MEPA should encourage and foster economic development that is environmentally and socially sound. By taking the time to identify the environmental impacts of a state decision before the decision is made and including the public in the process, MEPA is intended to foster better decision making for people and the environment.”

So let’s see, this ponderous legislation that we keep trying to evade has no regulatory function, seeks to involve the public in their own welfare, encourages personal responsibility, protects property rights, wants to encourage “harmony between humans and their environment” and “enrich the understanding of ecological systems”. Nope, I still don’t get it. Seems like a good thing to me. I guess I must have missed something.

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One Response

  1. […] For those of you unfamiliar with the history of the Montana Environmental Protection Act, the Button Valley Bugle had a great post about a week ago detailing not only some of the current assaults against it, but a history of how Montana came to enact MEPA […]

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