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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Missoula Crowd Pushes DEQ For More CO2 Options

Cheri Trusler

A meeting to talk about reducing Montana’s carbon dioxide emissions drew more than 150 people to a Missoula hotel last night.

Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality invited people to hear about and comment on their “white paper,” which shows five different strategies for the state to reduce Co2 emissions to meet a new federal target. That target for Montana is to reduce Co2 emissions by 21 percent by the year 2030.

DEQ Director Tracy Stone-Manning told those who came that it’s very important that they understand what her agency’s white paper is, and isn’t.

"The white paper you might have picked up says 'for discussion purposes only' on every single page." Stone-Manning said. "It says that for a reason. This is really for discussion only. You do not have a plan in your hand, you have analysis and ideas of what could be and there are five scenarios in it, all in which are hypothetical and all of which keep our existing coal plants open."

That last bit, about Montana being able to meet tougher federal emissions requirements without having to close down coal-fired power plants, has some greeting the white paper with enthusiasm. People in coal country are worried that the new rules will leave miners and power plant workers without jobs.

But several people at last night’s meeting, like John Woodland, said they don’t think DEQ is considering enough options.

Credit Cheri Trusler
Dan Brandborg, with SBS Solar, was a panelist at Thursday's event.

"When you first started, you mentioned that everything was on the table and I don't think that's really accurate," Woodland said. "Shutting down the coal plants and really going another direction is not on the table. There is not one reason in the world that you can't do better than the standards the EPA sets for you. You can aim higher."

Last night’s meeting was the third of three on DEQ’s ideas for reducing carbon dioxide. Director Stone-Manning said they heard a lot about the new federal target being too tough to meet at events in Colstrip and Billings, and Missoula was the only place people suggested the standard isn’t strict enough.

Stone-Manning said there were some common concerns they heard in all three locations.

"People are worried about any changes in energy production might change the cost that they pay in their homes for energy or might make businesses cost prohibitive to run here in Montana. We need to dive in and look at those numbers," she said. "On the flip side, we also heard that if we do this right this could save rent payers money, so we look forward to that homework ahead"

Credit Cheri Trusler
State Senator Cliff Larsen, D-Missoula, was on the panel at Thursday's event.

The cost question was raised last night by David Hoffman, director of external affairs for PPL Montana, the company that runs the Colstrip power plant.

"The Montana Chamber of Commerce recently released some numbers," Hoffman said, "I can’t tell you how these numbers were arrived at - that talked about a 26% increase in the price of electricity to the Montana rate payer with the implementation of this rule."

DEQ’s Stone-Manning disputed that number, saying any change in the price of electricity as a result of the EPA emissions target is impossible to calculate. That’s because the state has laid out five different options for meeting the target, and each would result in different costs and savings.

Stone-Manning also says the EPA target itself isn’t final yet.

"EPA is going to get us a final rule in June of next year, and then we’ll have something really tangible to work with. Right now, it’s all hypothetical, because it’s a draft rule."

The EPA is taking public comment on its draft C02 rule until December first. Stone-Manning says Governor Bullock will take the feedback it got at its meetings in Missoula, Billings and Colstrip and incorporate them into the state’s comments, and file them by the December 1 deadline.

Eric Whitney is NPR's Mountain West/Great Plains Bureau Chief, and was the former news director for Montana Public Radio.
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