Associated Press

HELENA, Mont. (AP) -- A Montana legislator is proposing the state embrace global warming and wrest control of greenhouse gas regulation from the federal government, ideas that scientists and environmentalists call an indefensible denial of physics and a waste of taxpayer money.

Republican Rep. Joe Read of Ronan aims to pass a law that says global warming is a natural occurrence that "is beneficial to the welfare and business climate of Montana."

A warmer planet means a longer growing season, and more carbon dioxide will make the state's grasses grow better, he told the House Natural Resources Committee on Friday.

Fossil-fuel extraction and agriculture are two important parts of the Montana's economy. Ronan's House Bill 549 asserts the state must adopt a policy on global warming that ensures appropriate management of those natural resources and Montana's economic development.

His proposal would put into law that global warming is natural and not caused by humans, and that "reasonable amounts of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere have no verifiable impacts on the environment."

"Whether it warms, whether it cools, if we just have a policy statement that says don't use weather against us in our business practices, that's what this is all about," he said.

University of Montana climate change professor Steve Running said it is indefensible to introduce legislation that attempts to negate a body of work built over decades by scientists around the world.

"To me, if the Montana Legislature does something as ridiculous as passing a bill that basically repeals the physics of global warming, I recommend they next pass a bill repealing the law of gravity," Running said. "It's about the same level of ridiculousness. We really will be the laughing stock of the country."

Running's lab writes software for NASA satellites to study the global patterns of plant growth. His research aims to understand the impact of drought on plant development and climate change on the length of the growing season.

Running said his research shows longer growing seasons did enhance plant production in the 1980s and 1990s -- the point Read made to the committee. But, Running added, the last decade has shown a downward turn, with droughts now reducing plant productivity.

Read's is one of several bills dealing with far-right social issues that have been forwarded this session in which Republicans control the state Legislature for the first time in years. Others include a so-called "birther" bill that would require presidential candidates to produce a birth certificate to verify their citizenship, plus a plan to require federal officers to get a sheriff's permission before making an arrest in that sheriff's county.

Another bill by Read heard on Friday would forbid any federal law or policy dealing with greenhouse gases from being enacted in Montana and prohibit any state officer from enforcing such a policy.

Read argues in House Bill 550 that because the U.S. Constitution does not specifically authorize the federal government to regulate greenhouse gases, Montana should have that right as part of its power to regulate intrastate commerce.

He presented the bill in the House Federal Relations, Energy and Telecommunications Committee, repeating much of his earlier testimony. With him in both hearings was a Kalispell physicist named Ed Berry, who testified that while carbon dioxide is increasing, it's not known how much is due to human activity.

A legislator on one panel countered that the Department of Energy tracks the amount of carbon dioxide in the U.S. Another pointed out that view goes against that of most scientists, corporations, the military and most nations that recognize the threat of climate change.

"I'm sorry to see they're off on the wrong track," Berry said.

Anne Hedges, director of the Montana Environmental Information Center, told the federal relations committee that debate on climate change should be left to the scientists, and the legislative panel should be examining the bill's implications.

Greenhouse gases not being included in the Constitution is no reason to claim state authority over their regulation, Hedges said. The Bill of Rights, women's right to vote and presidential term limits also weren't included in the Constitution, but society has evolved to include them, she said.

Plus, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are air pollutants under the Clean Air Act and said the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to regulate those emissions. That clearly gives the EPA the constitutional authority over greenhouse gas regulation, she said.

Democratic Rep. Mike Phillips of Bozeman asked Read how his bill fit in with the supremacy clause of the Constitution that establishes federal law as the highest law in the land.

Read acknowledged he did not know.

"That's what we're going to find out when we do this," he said.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

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