July 10, 2021

It’s Day 15 of our 2021 Cycle the Rockies course. The heat bounces off the paved road as we pull our bikes off the street to lock them up. The heat wave has arrived. We’ve only ridden a couple of miles from our campsite into downtown Helena, but we’re all sweating. As we stand outside the Montana Energy Information Center’s building, Connor Ploeger warns us that there is no air conditioning inside, but we’re all just relieved to be out of the sun.

Connor has worked for MEIC for just under a year and met with us to talk about building codes and Montana’s recent legislative session. Just like Ed Gullic of High Plains Architecture, Connor is focused on energy efficiency, working towards updating building codes as much as possible. This isn’t always easy with the bureaucratic hurdles to changing building codes through legislation. A clean energy plan is necessary to move our cities towards sustainable futures, but environmental policy can be very divisive in the current partisan state of our country’s politics. Connor is very blunt about the fact that state legislature can be antagonistic to environmental policy. Specifically, he speaks to us about SB 257.

SB 257 says a local government may not impose fees, taxations, or penalties based on carbon or carbon use. Bills like this move against agendas that could allow easier processes for cities to be more efficient with their energy use. By not allowing things like a carbon tax, there is no discouragement for moving away from fossil fuels. SB 257 was passed on March 4, 2021. Connor talks about MEIC’s struggle to get bills passed that are in line with MEIC’s vision for Montana. This bill won’t allow cities to pursue clean energy plans.

Connor tells us that a lot of what they do is focus on lobbying; for them, sometimes that means lobbying lobbyists. The world of politics can be difficult to navigate, and often requires knowing the right way to propose new ideas without ruffling too many feathers. MEIC is trying to get legislation passed that helps the state move towards better energy standards, but regulation and enforcement gets complicated in an environment of strong identity politics. It became clear from our conversation with Connor that we just have to keep pushing and talking to the right people in order to achieve legislation that works towards a cleaner future.

Delaney Harris is from Austin, TX and is currently a senior at Texas A&M University.