Great Falls Tribune: New study of EPA rules shows dire results, sparks debate

HELENA — The Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan could mean the loss of thousands of jobs, millions in income and cause a population decline, bringing about “the most significant economic event to occur in Montana in more than 30 years,” according to a study released Wednesday that was challenged by several audience members.

The report commissioned by NorthWestern Energy and the Montana Chamber of Commerce was done by the University of Montana’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research. Patrick Barkey, BBER director, presented his findings at the Red Lion Colonial Inn while on one side of the room people from groups such as the Montana Environmental Information Center and Montana Conservation Voters clutched signs reading, “It’s time to cut carbon” and “Climate Action: It’s our obligation.”

John Hines, vice president of supply for NorthWestern Energy, said Montana was “targeted the most” of any state for emission reductions — 47 percent.

“We obviously take our environmental responsibilities very seriously,” he said, while warning of serious consequences from the EPA plan.

The study contends compliance of the plan could mean the closure of the Colstrip coal-fired generating station in southeastern Montana.

However, some in the audience claimed the report was flawed and influenced by NorthWestern Energy.

“I don’t think it’s worth the paper it’s written on,” said Anne Hedges of MEIC, who held a sign throughout the presentation. She said the utility should be ashamed of itself for doing a worst-case scenario.

Gov. Steve Bullock issued a statement saying he did not not agree that the report is the only window into what Montana’s future looks like.

“We all know Colstrip plays an important role in Montana, and that’s why we need to work together as Montanans, to develop a solution that protects consumers and our economy while also addressing the threat of climate change,” he said via email.

Hines defended the study, saying it illustrated the concerns of implementing the EPA plan. He said hopefully a stay will be granted. He said the BBER strategy spoke for itself, offering a clear strategy.

Tom Schneider, a former public service commissioner who asked several questions during the presentation, said the report was what he expected.

He said bad information and flawed assumptions by NorthWestern Energy were drivers for the study.

“It’s going to be used to scare Montanans,” he said.

Barkey defended the study, saying “I have to rely on the reputation of the center (BBER), which I hold highly.”

When criticized of being approached by NorthWestern for the study, he said that most things of value come with a price, including research.

Webb Brown, president of the Montana Chamber of Commerce, was critical of the EPA plan.

“What should instead be called the ‘Costly Power Plan’ proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency of the Obama administration means reductions in our jobs, taxes and income,” he said in a news release.

The EPA recently published its final Clean Power Plan rule, which is intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The plan requires states to develop plans to reduce carbon emissions, seeking a 47 percent reduction by 2020.

Colstrip is one of the largest coal-fired power plants in the West and produces electricity sold by utilities in Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Washington. NorthWestern Energy official said the utility, which provides power to 354,000 Montana customers, owns a 30 percent stake in Colstrip Unit 4, which produces about 25 percent of what the company needs to provide service.

They said the closing Colstrip would likely lead to higher rates to get power

The EPA rule has prompted response in Montana.

On Oct. 23, state Attorney General Tim Fox said Montana would join 23 other states in a lawsuit challenging the rules, saying the federal government had overstepped its authority.

On Friday, Bullock said he would establish an advisory council to help craft Montana’s response to the new federal rules, saying he signed an executive order creating the interim Montana Clean Power Plan Advisory Council.

He said the council will include coal-fired power plant owners; conservation, wildlife and environmental interests; large industrial electric customers, organized labor, renewable energy, coal mining interests, government regulators and tribal interests.

The release of the BBER report Wednesday triggered a flood of emails and news releases.

“This study clearly shows President Obama’s carbon regulations are sending Montana towards economic devastation,” wrote Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont. “If our governor decides to comply with this supposed ‘Clean’ Power Plan, Montanans will suffer. All of Colstrip will have to close, essentially closing the entire town.”

Sen. Steve Daines had a town hall meeting Wednesday to discuss the plan.

He said Montanans can’t afford an anti-coal agenda.

“President Obama’s job-killing, anti-affordable energy regulations will devastate significant parts of Montana’s economy and likely shutter the Colstrip Power Plant,” he said via email. “They will destroy thousands of family-wage union and tribal jobs, cause energy bills to skyrocket for Montana families and result in the loss of millions of dollars in tax revenue for our schools and roads. This report proves that President Obama’s war on energy is devastating for Montana and must be stopped.”

Colstrip Mayor Rose Hanser called into Daines’ show. She called the BBER report “tremendously disturbing,” saying the rules would cause a ripple effect across the state and nation.

By the numbers

The University of Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research report found the following would happen within three years of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan being implemented:

  • 7,100 jobs lost.
  • $500 million in lost annual income from Montana households.
  • $1.5 billion in gross annual sales by Montana businesses and organizations.
  • Population loss due to job loss and people seeking employment out of state.

To know more

The study is online at