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What The Supreme Court's Power Plant Emission Ruling Means For Montana

The moratorium on major new coal leases on federal land that the Obama administration announced today, is either long-overdue or the latest offensive in the ongoing war on coal. That depends on whom you ask.
Coal mine in the Powder River Basin in Wyoming.

Montana coal advocates are hailing the Supreme Court's ruling against the Obama administration's attempt to limit toxic emissions from power plants.

The justices ruled the Environmental Protection Agency failed to adequately consider costs when regulating emissions from coal and oil-fired plants. EPA says it could cost over $9-billion annually to install and operate pollution control equipment.

Coal advocate Chuck Denowh of the "Count on Coal Montana" group calls Monday’s decision  a significant  victory.

"The ruling signifies that EPA must take cost into consideration when they're designing these rules," says Denowh.

But EPA says the regulations the Court overturned would annually save tens of billions of dollars more than they cost. Those savings would be realized in the form of saved lives, better health and fewer lost work days.

Montana Environmental Information Center's Anne Hedges says this week's Supreme Court ruling is disappointing, but adds it won't have much impact on Montana.

"Montana took care of this problem back in about 2006 when they adopted a rule that power plants had to limit mercury emissions, and they have been controlling them ever since," according to Hedges.

But MEIC says EPA's rule would have also required tighter restrictions on a host of other pollutants including hydrochloric acid and sulphuric acids.

"Our coal at Colstrip results in very high levels of acid gases and mercury, but they've been limiting their mercury emissions. Honestly Colstrip was proposing some very inexpensive ways to limit those emissions. It's unfortunate if they don't move forward with implementing those measures," says Hedges.

Talen Energy operates Colstrip. The coal-fired power plant generates energy sold by utilities across the Northwest. Talen spokesman Todd Martin says today's Supreme Court ruling changes nothing for the company.

"We intend to continue along the same planning and operational path as we had before," Martin says. "Our plants were well-positioned to meet the requirements of this ruling. As we sit here today, each of our plants is in compliance."

Count on Coal Montana's Chuck Denowh says the ruling could have significant implications for EPA's pending regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

"We believe that the EPA has not done a very good job of calculating what the cost of that rule will be; not just on the industry, but what the cost to consumers will be and what the cost to states like Montana that supply a lot of the coal."

EPA's Mercury and Air Toxic standards that were overturned this week by the Supreme Court took effect earlier this spring. They'll remain in place as a lower court and the EPA figure out what to do next.

O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the University of Montana School of Journalism. His first career job out of school was covering the 1995 Montana Legislature. When the session wrapped up, O’Brien was fortunate enough to land a full-time position at the station as a general assignment reporter. Feel free to drop him a line at
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