Southeastern Montana's Crow Nation says President Obama’s pending climate plan would wreak economic havoc on the already-impoverished reservation.
Under the administration's proposal, states must reduce their carbon emissions by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.
Montana Attorney General Tim Fox is going up to bat for the Crow Nation. Fox says he's troubled by how the President is unilaterally guiding this climate proposal.
"The president has said as much that he's going to take his pen and his cell phone and is going to go around Congress," said Fox. "Certainly many don't like the dysfunctional situation in Washington D.C, but the Constitution's there for a reason."
The Montana Environmental Information Center's Anne Hedges disagrees, saying Obama does have the authority to regulate greenhouse gasses.
"Bottom line is, these protections are necessary," said Hedges. "The EPA has done exactly what Attorney General Fox asked of it back at the beginning of this process and developed a program that gives states maximum flexibility to determine the most efficient and cost-effective way to reduce greenhouse gasses."
But, Attorney General Fox says the Crow are economically dependent on the Westmoreland mine on their reservation near Hardin. That coal is sent to midwestern power plants.
"By their calculations, they have about 9 billion tons of coal that are tribally owned and they've been mining that coal for 40 years," said Fox. "They've produced over 180 million tons of coal. That means about $20 million a year on average that comes into the Crow tribe in terms of severance taxes and other income."
M.E.I.C's Hedges says that revenue stream isn't going to drastically change anytime soon.
"What we do have to do though is decrease the amount of carbon pollution that we put into the air every year," said Hedges. "The EPA rule isn't going to be fully implemented until 2030. That gives us plenty of time to help transition. We're still in 2030 not going to be off of coal. There's still going to be a demand for coal in this country."
Still, Fox says President Obama’s climate plan will eventually drain the tribe's economic life blood.
"Their customers, who happen to be coal-fired electrical generating plants in a couple of different states, will have to close those plants down under these air rules," said Fox. "So, their customers will go away, their (the Crow tribe's) mine will have to shut down and the federal government was supposed to consult with the tribe before they even drafted these rules and they didn't do that on this issue."
EPA sees it differently. They say they’ve reached out to the Crow numerous times, including recent in-person meetings. Crow Chairman Darrin Old Coyote last week dismissed those efforts as an inadequate one-size-fits-all approach. The agency declined our offer for a taped interview.
Hedges says the Crow would do well to prepare for the inevitable.
"Coal is not as reliable and inexpensive as it once was and as people believe," said Hedges. "That's not true like it was 10 or 15 years ago. So, those states are going to transition whether we have a clean power plan or not. The Crow tribe would be best served if people help them deal with that transition."
A transition to more green energy production. Hedges believes the Crow are sitting on a virtual gold mine of potential renewable energy sources. It seems Chairman Old Coyote's administration isn't as convinced.