Great Falls Tribune: Montana joins suit against clean air rules

HELENA — Attorney General Tim Fox announced Friday that Montana would join 23 other states in a lawsuit challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s “carbon rule,” which reportedly would restructure the way in which electricity is consumed in the United States.

He accused the EPA of overstepping its authority.

“The new regulations don’t bode well for states like Montana, which relies on abundant and inexpensive coal for stable, affordable electricity …” Fox said.

According to Fox, the rule requires states to reduce carbon emissions from electric-generating plants by 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. He said it could cost more than $25 billion annually, and the costs would likely be passed on to consumers by 10 percent or more.

He was joined at the news conference by Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., who criticized the EPA and the Obama administration, calling the rule “a war on American energy, a war on American families and a war on American jobs.”

“What is needed is this country is more innovation and less regulation,” he said.

Daines added Republicans in Congress are working to fight this rule, and “I’m glad to see the attorney general is stepping up to stop the power grab by the EPA.”

He noted that half of the electricity in the state comes from coal-fired plants.

The lawsuit, filed Friday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Court, is reportedly spearheaded by the state of West Virginia, but Fox said Montana would take an active role and pump resources into it.

Fox called it a bipartisan challenge.

He said the rule also would cause coal miners, union works and others to lose their jobs.

The EPA could not immediately be reached for comment.

Fox said the lawsuit makes it clear the EPA has no legal authority to force such a rule, adding states have been arguing against it for more than a year.

He said the EPA lacks authority to force states to restructure their power portfolios to consume less coal-fired energy. And it’s illegal because it requires states to regulate coal-fired plants under the Clean Air Act, even though the EPA is already doing it. It’s double regulation and prohibited under the act.

Fox said he was hopeful to get a stay on the EPA action.

Daines said a Republican president in 2016 could make a “profound change,” adding it could mean a new EPA director.

Gov. Steve Bullock, en route to Asia for a trade mission, is a former attorney general who typically does not comment on suits filed by the attorney general’s office, a governor’s spokesman said. However, in an email he said the state had a plan and it was “frustrating when the Obama administration moved the goalpost on us in the final rule. The rule has been challenged and the courts will sort that out. Ultimately though, Montana faces a choice: we can write our own plan or the federal government will write it for us.”

Montana state Sen. Dick Barrett, D-Missoula, said the EPA took action under the authority it has after Congress failed to do so. Barrett, who co-authored a letter in support of the Clean Power Plan with 33 other legislators, said the federal overreach argument by the state attorneys general suing the EPA doesn’t ring true to him.

“They simply don’t want to shoulder the burden of dealing with these carbon emissions,” Barrett said. “They, just like Congress, want to sweep this issue under the rug.”

Other included in the suit include West Virginia, Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Wisconsin, Wyoming, the Arizona Corporation Commission, and the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality.

Later Friday, Ed Gulick, chairman of Northern Plains Resource Council’s Clean Energy Task Force, said the state must move away from fossil fuels.

“Fortunately, there are a number of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies, such as solar and wind, that are coming online now, and they are actually less expensive in addition to being cleaner and providing good jobs,” he said in a news release. The council is a Billings-based conservation and family agricultural group.

He said the challenge is on making sure the transition is done in a just manner, “with hardworking Montanans in affected industries able to retrain for the clean energy economy.”