Judith Gap wind power turbine

Wind turbines stand out on the landscape in Judith Gap.

NorthWestern Energy had asked the Public Service Commission if it could pay decreased rates to wind- and solar-energy projects, a request the PSC denied in May 2015.

Kurt Wilson, for the Independent Record

HELENA – A retired clergyman and a one-time political candidate have teamed up in an effort to put global warming mitigation to a statewide vote in 2016.

John Soderberg, former minister of the Bozeman United Methodist Church, submitted on Wednesday a ballot initiative to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide released from electricity generators in Montana.

"When I was 5 years old I was taught not to litter," Soderberg said in discussing his reasons for joining the proposal's cause. "I was taught to leave the world a better place when I'm gone."

Soderberg was enlisted in the campaign by Russ Doty, a lawyer and author who ran as a Democrat for Montana's Public Service Commission immediately upon moving to the state in 2004.

Their proposal would require electricity suppliers to obtain at least 20 percent of retail sales from renewable energy such as wind, solar, geothermal or hydroelectric sources by 2020.

Soderberg acknowledged it's an ambitious goal.

"I think of sending someone to the moon," Soderberg said. "When America sets goals, we do it, so it's time to talk about goals."

The initiative would also limit any additional costs of transitioning to renewable electricity generation to 2 percent for consumers, and create a category of small, private community renewable energy projects.

Doty could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon. His LinkedIn profile states he moved to the Billings area after being awarded a $30 million clean-energy bond to build two wind farms in Montana, which he worked on until the project ended.

"The Montana Legislature failed to enact a change in state law to enable us to utilize the funding," Doty writes.

Soderberg said he was emboldened by Pope Francis' sweeping manifesto on climate change that was released in June. In the encyclical, the pope said people of all faiths and no faith are called "to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it."

Hundreds of theologians from myriad religions and denominations are concerned about eco-justice issues raised by global warming, the Montana petition states in a section designated for arguments to approve the initiative.

"I suspect that, given our biblical mandate, that this has been talked about in a lot of churches," Soderberg said. "From the book of Genesis, we are taught to be the stewards of God's creation."

The secretary of state's office received the proposal and legislative staffers are conducting a standard legal review of its language.

The initiative would require about 25,000 signatures from across the state to be included on the 2016 ballot.

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