Judith Gap Wind Farm, Climate

Judith Gap Wind Farm turbines rotate in the breeze on Aug. 6.

The Montana Climate Solutions Council has published draft recommendations on how the state should tackle climate change.

The 37-page recommendation list, which the council released Tuesday, outlines dozens of possible initiatives that could reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help the state adapt to the changing climate, develop new technologies and transition to a greener economy.

“We are looking forward to building this out over the next few months in a way that is not just helpful for the governor but also for the state Legislature, local governments, businesses and community organizations,” said council member Amy Cilimburg, the director of Climate Smart Missoula.

The council, which Gov. Steve Bullock appointed in July, recommends expanding the state’s research and monitoring of climate change, incorporating climate change into government planning efforts and investing in research of technologies like energy storage.

The council also proposes supporting community-based renewable energy projects, creating tax breaks for low- and zero-emission vehicles and offering incentives for making buildings more energy efficient.

As part of its recommendations, the council released a list of questions that will inform members’ discussions over the next few months as they finalize their work.

“There are still more discussions to have on these topics and to ensure the recommendations we put forth can be rolled out,” Cilimburg said.

The council is accepting public comment on its recommendations until March 31.

To craft the recommendations, the council focused on creating incentives for addressing climate change rather than mandates, said David Hoffman, the government affairs director for NorthWestern Energy, which has been criticized for not doing enough to address climate change.

Hoffman said that it has been difficult for the council to craft recommendations in the short timeframe it has been given. He added that making policy recommendations for the energy industry is a challenge because Montana’s regulated utilities are constrained by state laws and are overseen, in some cases, by agencies that don’t have representatives on the council.

Despite that, “we have had conversations that have been really worthwhile,” Hoffman said.

The Montana Environmental Information Center, a group that has long urged lawmakers to tackle climate change, sees some promising policy ideas in the council’s draft.

Anne Hedges, deputy director of MEIC, said she appreciates that the council’s draft recommendations address the need to increase energy efficiency, adapt to climate change and help the state’s coal-reliant towns transition to a new economy. However, she is critical of the council’s emphasis on carbon storage and sequestration, which she said are expensive and largely unproven, over the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

“There is a lot of good work and ideas in there that we should have started implementing yesterday,” she said. “There is no reason to wait. The clock is ticking on the governor’s term and climate change.”

Bullock created the Montana Climate Solutions Council by executive order, tasking it with helping the state reach net greenhouse gas neutrality for average annual electric loads by 2035 and net greenhouse gas neutrality economy-wide at a date yet to be determined.

The council has until June to issue its recommendations, which Bullock’s office will use to set priorities for his final months in office.

“Our state’s efforts to craft homegrown solutions will be critical to addressing not only the risks facing Montana from climate change but also capitalizing on the many opportunities tied to clean energy and climate-driven transitions happening in our region and around the world,” Bullock said in a news release.