Billings Gazette: Guest opinion: Court should limit EPA’s power

Last week, an appeals court in Washington, D.C., heard a case that will determine whether the Environmental Protection Agency has the power to require states to restructure the electric grid. 

At issue is the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which would expand the power of the federal government immensely, cost thousands of jobs, and give the EPA a veto over decisions that have always been left to state legislatures and utility commissions.

A majority of states, including Montana, are challenging EPA’s regulation. The Supreme Court has stayed the implementation of it. 

In the past, the EPA regulated emissions by identifying a control technology and requiring that device, or its equivalent, to be installed on a factory or power plant. The EPA Power Plan is a radical departure from this tradition. 

The Clean Power Plan requires emissions rates at Montana’s coal plants to be cut by 47 percent. No commercially available technology can achieve that level of emissions at a coal plant, and certainly not by the EPA’s mandated timeline for compliance. So how does the EPA assume it is possible? The agency bases its requirement on the idea that if only other, brand new natural-gas or renewable power plants existed, then those coal plants would operate less of the time. The state would be expected to restructure its energy economy accordingly, and jeopardize the grid’s reliability while doing so. 

EPA’s extension of federal control over local economies will have profound consequences for Montana as it faces the most severe requirement of any state in the nation. It will likely result in the loss of thousands of jobs associated with Colstrip, worth $360 million in personal income. The loss of tax revenue will leave county and state budgets in the lurch. It is an affront to the Crow Tribe and trades unions, many of whom depend on coal mining for revenue that sustains their livelihoods. 

Montana will already face a significant economic impact when Colstrip Units 1 and 2 close, which their owners have agreed to do by 2022 in response to environmentalist litigation. But even the closure of those generators only accounts for half of what the EPA is requiring.

What’s more, the EPA has spelled out no clear limits to its newfound authority to adopt this kind of regulation. If electricity can be regulated in this way, what about transportation? Will the EPA one day discover it has the authority to specify an emissions limit on refiners based on what they would emit if only there were more hybrid vehicles or electric buses? 

Additionally, in calculating Montana’s requirement, the EPA gives our state no credit for our hydroelectric facilities, including the facilities NorthWestern Energy bought only two years ago. If the rule stands, Montana consumers will get no credit for that clean energy, despite paying hundreds of millions of dollars for it.

It’s popular these days to say we should have a Montana-created energy policy. We completely agree. The EPA should not be allowed to commandeer it.

Steve Daines, R-Bozeman, represents Montana in the U.S. Senate. Travis Kavulla, R-Great Falls, is vice-chairman of the Montana Public Service Commission.