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Clean Power Plan Decision Gets Mixed Reactions In Montana

Tuesday’s Supreme Court vote to temporarily block the Obama Administration's climate change regulations is receiving praise and criticism in Montana.";

Tuesday’s Supreme Court vote to temporarily block the Obama Administration's climate change regulations is receiving praise and criticism in Montana.

Attorney General Tim Fox says the halt of the Environmental Protection Agency regulations is a win for Montana and the more than two dozen other states challenging the Clean Power Plan in federal court.

"This is huge. It’s a signal that should this case goes back up on the merits to the Supreme Court, that there is a possibility — and you never want to handicap these things in advance — that the Clean Power Plan and the EPA regulations will be struck down."

Fox says this decisions means that states don’t have to waste time and resources putting together regulation plans while the legality are the EPA’s rules are reviewed in court.

Before it was put on hold, the Clean Power Plan required states to have plans in place by next fall to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. For Montana, that goal was to reduce emissions 47 percent by 2030, that’s the biggest reduction rate in the country.

"We’ve always assumed that the Clean Power Plan was a piece of the puzzle, but it was never the whole puzzle about how we get to a clean energy future."

That’s Anne Hedges with the Montana Environmental Information Center. She says she is disappointed with the Supreme Court’s decision.

"But it doesn’t change the trajectory that the nation is already on. Clean energy is already here, it is already out-competing coal on a regular basis. We’ve always assumed that the Clean Power Plan was a piece of the puzzle, but it was never the whole puzzle about how we get to a clean energy future. And whatever the Supreme Court eventually decides is nearly irrelevant in the conversation about a clean energy future."

Nancy Hirsh is with the Northwest Energy Coalition, a group of environmental and renewable energy organizations. She says that while there is a movement toward clean power in the country, the Clean Power Plan pushes states along in that effort.

"It is important for momentum and there are many states where the Clean Power Plan will be the catalyst that is critical for beginning to make this transition from coal-fired power plants to cleaner energy technology. And there are other states where there is momentum already in place and actions being taken where the Clean Power Plan is as not a critical a driver."

The Clean Power Plan potentially had the most impact on the huge electricity generating plants at Colstrip. Those plants are jointly owned by several utilities, including Puget Sound Energy in Washington, and Pennsylvania-based Talen Energy.

Both companies sent Montana Public Radio written statements saying they are carefully watching the Supreme Court's actions regarding the Clean Power Plan.

Northwestern Energy’s Claudia Rapkoch took a more direct stance on the issue.

"Well, we are very pleased. I think it validates what our concerns have been along with the state of Montana and with many other utilities and states around the country as well."

Montana’s utilities regulator, the Public Service Commission, has estimated that electricity rates may have jumped 30 - 40 percent to cover costs of complying with Clean Power Plan rules. Not everyone agrees with those numbers.

Rapkoch says Northwestern Energy is committed to building renewable power into their energy portfolio because the ways the country gets it’s energy is changing.

"Obviously, regardless of what anybody believes is going to happen, we know that there are changes coming and we have to be prepared."

No one may feel as vulnerable to the changing energy market than the people whose livelihoods depend on coal power.

"They’re scared. Their families are scared."

That’s Al Ekblad of the AFL-CIO that represents about 800 Colstrip-area workers. He says the Supreme Court's stay on the Clean Power Plan gives families dependent on the coal economy, a break from worrying over their future.

"You’re talking about a group of people that are very proud of their community and proud of the livelihood they’ve been able to provide for their families. I mean, I think the challenges facing coal, the coal industry are multiple, but having this one put on pause, I would think they felt it was a very positive thing."

Eckblad is a member of the 23-person Clean Power Plan Advisory Council Governor Steve Bullock appointed in January to help him respond to the plans emissions target. On Tuesday, Bullock stopped the advisory council’s work in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Bullock’s office released a statement Tuesday  saying that while the EPA rules were unfair to Montana, what cannot be put on hold is the need to address climate change and embrace Montana’s energy future.

The governor has not yet made himself available for an interview on this topic.

Arguments over the merits of the Clean Power Plan will start June 2. The federal district court hearing those arguments will not likely issue a ruling for months after that.

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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