Nuclear energy is having a moment in the Montana Legislature. With uncertainty surrounding the future of the state’s coal-fired power plants and the Biden administration’s aggressive targets for reducing fossil-fuel emissions to combat climate change, Montana’s energy landscape is in flux. Nuclear energy development has come up in past legislative sessions, but this year lawmakers — Republican lawmakers in particular — seem motivated to pave the way for adding nuclear to Montana’s energy mix.
The House passed a simultaneously controversial and low-profile measure last month that seeks to “eliminate restrictions on nuclear facility development.” The most obvious thing House Bill 273 does is repeal a 1978 law that requires a majority of Montana voters to approve any nuclear energy facilities before they can be built here. The bill drew unanimous support from Republicans and near-unanimous opposition from Democrats in passing the House on Feb. 16.