KTVQ: Tough Montana Reception for Carbon Regulations

HELENA – The new strict carbon emission regulations announced by President Obama are getting cold reviews from Montana coal interests, but praise from some farming, alternative energy and environmental groups.

The final Environmental Protection Agency rule calls for the states to reduce carbon emissions from their power plants by nealy one-third (32 percent) by 2030 from their 2005 levels.

Gov. Steve Bullock (D-Montana) last fall touted a Montana Department of Environmental Quality report saying the state could meet future requirements without a shutdown of the state’s coal-fired plants, using alternative energy sources and possibly carbon sequestration, among other things, to meet the goal.

But Monday, faced with 1,000 pages of regulations and, apparently, a different target, he wasn’t so sure.

“At first glance, it looks as though the Obama administration has moved the goal post on us,” he said in a statement. “I am extremely disappointed by this.  I understand that we need to address climate change but how we do so has to work for Montana. The rule is very complicated and we will carefully review it and make sure we fully understand the implications for Montana’s economy and the future of energy in our state.”

He also called for more funding for low-carbon coal research.

“If we are to address climate change, we need to do so in a common sense way,” he said in the statement. “There is no practical path forward that doesn’t rely on coal for the next several decades and we need to invest now in ways to make generation cleaner.”

Sen. Steve Daines (R-Montana) called the plan part of war on American energy and jobs.

“The Obama Administration’s so-called Clean Power Plan not only would shutter our country’s coal fired power plants but also hinder the the tribes’ and states’s ability to develop their coal resources. This latest round of costly regulations has the potential to increase energy rates and cost thousand of good-paying jobs.”

The Montana Chamber of Commerce also gave the rules a thumbs-down.

“The business community in Montana is very concerned about the negative impact that the EPA’s carbon emission rules will have on our state’s economy,” Glenn Oppel, the group’s government affairs director, said in a statement. “One thing is for certain, we’ll see more expensive electricity for homes and businesses around the state. …. In addition to jeopardizing thousands of well-paying mining jobs, higher energy costs will also hurt job creation in energy-intensive industries such as agriculture and manufacturing.”

The AFL-CIO also has concerns, calling the rules unexpected and unrealistic.

In Montana, the Colstrip power complex is the main source of carbon-based power plant emissions, providing the vast majority of coal-derived electricity in the state.

Several groups praised the move.

Montana Farmers Union says farmers already feel the effects of climate change, and the rules allow Montana flexibility to meet the standards.

The American Lung Association says the regulations will prevent 90 thousand asthma attacks and more than 3,000 premature deaths every year.

And a group of renewable energy advocates said the regulations will help spur new Montana jobs in that industry.

“In more than a decade of installing solar panels on Montana homes and businesses I’ve seen the clean energy industry grow to employ hundreds of people across the state,” said Conor Darby, co-owner of Onsite Energy and president of the Montana Renewable Energy Association. “But we’ve still only begun to tap Montana’s enormous solar and wind resources. I’m excited by the potential of this plan to put more people to work, while giving consumers new tools to cut their utility bills.”

It’s not clear when or if the states will need to work toward the new rules; the rule making process has already been the subject of multiple court actions, and Congress could also seek to reverse the plan.