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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Montana Officials Sound-Off About EPA Emission Rules

Sen. Steve Daines.
Courtesy photo

If you’re a U.S. Senator from Montana, the reduction in carbon dioxide emissions that the White House is calling for is either a misguided war on working Montanans, or a reasonable starting point for a discussion of fighting climate change.

Shortly after President Obama announced the new EPA emissions rules he calls his “clean power plan,” Republican Steve Daines quickly rallied other coal state Senators in an attempt to block them.

"I’m proud to stand here, to join them as the co-sponsor of two bi-partisan resolutions of disapproval, under the Congressional Review Act, that would stop the EPA from imposing these anti-coal regulations. Coal keeps the lights on."

The new proposed EPA rules call for Montana to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 47 percent by 2030.

That could lead to the shutdown of coal fired power plants in Montana, but the plan could also result in power plants in other states shutting down. Plants that now buy coal mined in Montana.

"In the month of October, a customer of the Crow Tribe, the Sherco coal plant in Minnesota announced it needs to shut down two units. This cuts off a significant portion of the customer base for crow coal. Because the Crow tribe relies on coal-fired midwestern utilities for most of its non-federal revenue, and for good paying tribal jobs at the Apsaloka Mine."

A couple of weeks ago, Senator Daines joined Montana’s Republican Attorney General Tim Fox in announcing that Montana would join the 26-state lawsuit against the EPA’s new CO2 rules. Here’s Attorney General Fox.

"It does not really have anything to do with whether this is wise policy, it has to do with whether it violates the rule of law, the individual states’ sovereignty."

Fox says its Congress’ job to set energy policy, not the White House’s. Democratic Senator Jon Tester agrees with that.

Sen. Jon Tester (D) Montana
Credit Courtesy photo
Sen. Jon Tester (D) Montana

"Absolutely, and if Congress wasn’t so dysfunctional I think we would be, but the truth is, we govern from crisis to crisis. Otherwise, we haven't, to be honest with you, done much. And I also think it's certainly Attorney General Tim Fox's right to challenge this rule. But I would also say I do applaud Governor Bullock for moving forward with plans, by taking input from Montanans to figure out how we can get a plan that works for Montana."

Senator Daines describes the Clean Power Plans goal to cut Montana’s CO2 emission by 47 percent as a job killer. I asked Senator Tester what he thinks.

"I can’t tell you because I’m not a scientist and not a coal plant operator," says Tester. "But I can tell you that in order for industry to move, they have to be pushed. And I think this does pushs industry and other folks out there that are CO2 emitters. That being said, it's got to work, and if the goals are unrealistic, then we have to modify those goals."

The EPA’s goals are hardly set in stone. They’ll have to pass muster in the courts, and survive the outcome of 2016 elections. Because the new CO2 standards are being established by executive action, they could be modified or undone completely by the next President.

Listen to a longer interview with Sen. Tester on the Clean Power Plan:

Senator Tester talks about the Clean Power Plan and Montana's lawsuit seeking to block its implementation.

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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