Recently, as a result of President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accords, we, along with legislative colleagues and local government officials, sent a letter to Governor Bullock urging him to join with other states, cities and businesses to uphold the accords, despite the President’s decision. Specifically, we believe that the Governor should use his executive authority to establish firm, quantifiable and enforceable limits on Montana’s greenhouse gas emissions, and then take steps to meet those limits.

It is true that climate change is adversely affecting Montana, and indeed, the entire planet. It is also true that acting alone, Montana can do almost nothing to arrest climate change. It is only by negotiated international agreements, such as the Paris accords, that the most destructive effects of climate change can be averted. But such agreements are difficult to maintain. Participants face the temptation to benefit from the costly efforts of others, and to avoid making such efforts themselves. Shortsightedly, the President has yielded to exactly that temptation, putting the whole agreement, and the effort to arrest climate change, in jeopardy.

Fortunately, other signatories have indicated that they will continue to honor their Paris commitments. Their willingness to do so reflects farsighted and thoughtful leadership. Similarly, American governors, mayors, and business people clearly understand that our fate depends on collective action and they are prepared to exercise the leadership the President has abandoned by aligning their communities with the spirit and intent of the Paris agreement. We believe Governor Bullock should join these leaders; by moving to cap and then reduce emissions he will make it clear that Montana is prepared to play its part in this crucial collective effort.

Developing a climate change policy for Montana will be a challenge, but a challenge we must face. At some point, and the sooner the better, climate change will require a response, and we will be far better off crafting that response here in Montana rather than having it imposed upon us. That means we need to understand the various strategies available to us for capping emissions, how they can be cost-effectively deployed, and the policies that can achieve that deployment. Those policies can create opportunities for us in developing new ways of producing and using energy. But since reducing emissions will inevitably have adverse effects on certain industries, occupations, communities and income groups, we must also be prepared to address the concerns of those most severely impacted. In the end, Montanans need to share equitably both the benefits and costs of meeting the challenge of climate change.

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Participating in the international effort to arrest climate change will be a challenge, but one which forward looking political leaders must accept. The pace of climate change is accelerating and the costs of inaction are mounting. Now is the time to unite with partners from across the world and to act boldly to address this global threat.

Sen. Dick Barrett, D-Missoula, represents Senate District 47 and Sen. Mike Phillips, D-Bozeman, represents Senate District 33 in the Montana Legislature. 

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