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Some Montana Politicians Not Ready To Leave Coal Behind

A pile of coal.
Flickr user oatsy40 (CC-BY-2)
Wednesday, Montana’s Environmental Quality Council spoke with legislators from the west coast states who are drafting bills that could shut down at least part of the coal plant in Colstrip.";

Washington and Oregon are considering cutting ties with Montana coal.

Wednesday, Montana’s Environmental Quality Council spoke with legislators from the West Coast states who are drafting bills that could shut down at least part of the coal plant in Colstrip.

Washington State-based Puget Sound Energy owns the largest share of the Colstrip plant, while four other companies also own shares.

PSE is under pressure from Washington’s governor and the state utility commission to reduce its reliance on coal-based energy.

The bill that could shut down some of the plant could be heard in a Washington Senate committee as soon as this month.

Sen. John Brenden (R) SD17
Credit Montana Legislature
Sen. John Brenden (R) SD17

Montana Republican Senator from Scobey John Brenden shared his skepticism of the departure from coal with the other members of the Environmental Quality Council.

“There is a big diversity of how people feel about climate change. It used to be global warming, and it was global cooling before that. And I am kind of sick and tired of the gloom and doom people that say we are going to hell in a handbasket.”

Republican Senator from Wolf Creek Rick Ripley is also reluctant to move away from coal-based energy.

“Coal is still the most affordable and reliable. I think we have to remember that it is the most reliable form of electricity. And at some point in time there will be a replacement to coal.”

Ripley and Butte Democratic Senator Jim Keane will travel to Washington to testify on the importance of the Colstrip plant to Montana’s workforce and economy.

The two senators said their primary goal is to keep Colstrip from being shut down.

Helena Democratic Representative Janet Ellis advised the Council to plan for the possibility of the plant’s closure when speaking with the Washington legislature. She said it would be important to have some kind of mitigation package discussed.

“That would benefit both the community of Colstrip as well as the workers. The other thing that I wanted to encourage was that there is a job training and preference given to workers for remediation, whatever other kind of work is required if those plants are closed.”

Oregon-based utility companies with partial ownership in Colstrip are also moving toward coal-free power.  Oregon House Representative Jessica Vega Pederson said through a conference call that a proposal would come out of the Oregon legislature this week.

“We are looking at by 2030 moving away from coal as a part of Oregon, and doubling the renewable investment by 2040.”

Last August, President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency announced the Clean Power Plan that requires states to decrease their reliance on fossil fuels and cut carbon dioxide emissions substantially.

Anne Hedges with the Montana Environmental Information Center told Environmental Quality Council that Colstrip may be in Montana, but most of its owners are elsewhere.

“The decisions on the future of Colstrip are largely made out-of-state now. We are not in the driver's seat, but should have a lot to say.”

Last week Governor Steve Bullock went to Colstrip to announce his appointments to an Advisory Council in response to the Clean Power Plan. Under the Plan Montana would have to reduce its CO2 emissions more than any other state –  47 percent by 2030.

The Governor says he supports the multi-state lawsuit Attorney General Tim Fox joined seeking to stop the Clean Power Plan.

On Thursday, a subcommittee on the Clean Power Plan will meet to discuss the newly appointed Advisory Council, the role of renewable energy and options for coal technologies.

[Correction: The radio broadcast incorrectly identified Senator Rick Ripley as a Democrat. Ripley is a Republican State Senator from Senate District 10.]

Corin Cates-Carney manages MTPR’s daily and long-term news projects. After spending more than five years living and reporting across Western and Central Montana, he became news director in early 2020.
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