MISSOULIAN EDITORIAL: Seize opportunities in Clean Power Plan

The Clean Power Plan is a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposal to reduce carbon emissions from power plants in the United States. It is this country’s most concerted and significant effort to limit carbon pollution – and the many public health costs linked to it.

Yet many Republicans in Congress are determined to oppose this much-needed and overdue effort, including Montana’s U.S. Sen. Steve Daines and U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke.

Zinke, a member of the House Natural Resources Committee, has expressed concern that the rule will “drastically increase electricity costs during a time when energy prices and taxes are high enough” and “impose costly regulations that will negatively impact thousands of industry jobs across the state.”

And in May, Daines signed onto a bill that would do nothing less than overturn the Clean Power Plan.

This plan would set the first federal limits on the amount of carbon dioxide that can be emitted by coal-fired power plants. The goal is to set achievable limits for each power-producing state that add up to a reduction in carbon pollution of 30 percent by 2030.

The EPA issued its proposed rule last summer, and released a proposed plan earlier this summer. It is expected to offer a final plan any day now.

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, in contrast to his fellow Montanans in Congress, is supporting the proposed rules, calling them “responsible” and “flexible” and vowing to make sure they work for Montana.

Indeed, it appears that they already do – owing in large measure to the fact that Montana began cutting into carbon pollution 10 years ago. Consequently, Montana only has to reduce its emissions by an additional 21 percent by 2030, from about 2,250 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour of electricity to about 1,770 pounds.

Montana also has a good head start on meeting the plan’s requirements. Last September, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality offered a white paper containing five recommendations for making the federal standards work in Montana while maximizing the opportunity to boost the state’s energy industry.

The white paper provided a framework for meeting the targets in a way that allows for much statewide flexibility – and discussion.

Unfortunately, the plan’s opponents appear unwilling to engage in this important discussion. Instead of looking for ways to both reduce carbon emissions and boost alternative energy opportunities for Montana, they seem to be set on using their time and energy to build roadblocks.

Montana needs good-paying jobs, and coal provides some of them. But for far too long, too many have focused solely on the benefits and ignored the costs of coal. Montana also needs clean air, fewer wildfires and a stronger, more diverse energy economy.

Moreover, the plan could save consumers a lot of money on future power bills . The EPA itself expects the plan to result in a reduction in electricity bills by an average of 8 percent through investments in efficiencies and lower-cost clean power. In Montana specifically, an analysis by Synapse Energy Economics estimated an $8.2 million net benefit in energy savings.

It’s time for Montana’s leaders, entrepreneurs and innovators to showcase the Treasure State’s unlimited renewable resources: ingenuity and hard work. It’s possible to have our coal – in moderation – while expanding clean and affordable energy. This plan recognizes that – and so does Tester. That’s why Daines and Zinke should follow Tester’s lead on this one.

Missoulian editorial board: Publisher Mark Heintzelman, Editor Sherry Devlin, Opinion Editor Tyler Christensen.