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Report: Montana A Major CO2 Emitter

Colstrip power plant, Colstrip Montana.
Flicker User ambib (CC-BY-NC)

Montana's coal-fired power plants emit as much carbon dioxide as Mongolia, a country of almost 3 million people. That’s according to a new study from Environment Montana’s Research and Policy Center.

It says PPL's Colstrip power plant emits the majority of CO2 in Montana, about 13 million of the state's more than 15 million metric tons.

Environment Montana describes itself as a statewide, citizen-based environmental advocacy organization. It's new report is issued in advance of next week's United Nations climate summit and the EPA's recent decision to expand the comment period on its proposed limits of power plant carbon

Montana Environmental Information Center Deputy Director, Anne Hedges, say EPA data from 2012 shows Colstrip was the 12th dirtiest power plant in the country. Hedges notes that was a particularly wet year in Montana which resulted in a heavy reliance on hydropower.

Hedges says, "So a little state like Montana has this enormous pollution source. This report just puts the impacts of Colstrip in a broader perspective so we can understand here in Montana that not only can we do better but that we should do better, because Colstrip, its emissions and its pollution are much greater than they need to be and they are very large any way you calculate them."

PPL Montana's Director of External Affairs, David Hoffman, says that as one of the largest power plants in the American west, of course Colstrip emits more pollutants. But he adds that over the past decade it's been updated with over $100million worth of pollution control equipment. As Hoffman puts it, "to the extent these fringe environmental groups put a spin on it as they do with Colstrip, I don't have any real comment on that."

Hoffman argues, "Nobody has ever realistically indicated that carbon dioxide is a pollutant. It's an emission and there's a lot of debate out there about climate change and the impacts it has; but the bottom line is EPA has proposed a rule to reduce carbon emissions. We're working closely with Montana DEQ to see if there's a reasonable way to implement those rules once they're finally adopted." 

MEIC's Kyla Maki says renewable energy sources can provide clean and less expensive power. Maki says Montana ranks second in the nation for wind energy potential, but currently isn't even ranked in the top 20 for existing wind development projects. She says the state just doesn't have enough transmission capabilities.

Hoffman states, "The other reasons include Montana doesn't have a large population and so some of those resources that would be built here in the state need to serve out of state load. We know that we have the potential and that can and should be developed and consumers would be better off if we did that."

MEIC's Anne Hedges says the EPA's proposal to reduce carbon emissions from power plants would not only create more jobs, but reduce power rates. The plan's supporters add that choosing not to reduce carbon emissions could result in more floods, and more intense wildfires and have adverse impacts on wildlife.

PPL Montana's David Hoffman says any time additional regulation is imposed on industry, those costs will eventually trickle down to the consumer.

Edward O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the UM School of Journalism. He covers a wide range of stories from around the state.  
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