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Montana Congressional delegation concerned that EPA rule is bad for Colstrip

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Posted at 1:37 AM, May 02, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-02 13:34:07-04

Concerns continue over the future of the Colstrip coal-fired power plants.

This comes after the Environmental Protection Agency unveiled new regulations about Mercury and Air Toxic Standards (MATS) for power plants last week.

There is bipartisan concern about the new rule with some questioning EPA Administrator Michael Regan.

Others say without the rule, there will be some health concerns.

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., both say it's not good for Montana.

Tester asked Regan about the rule at a Senate appropriations subcommittee hearing on Wednesday.

"I want to talk a little bit today about the MATs rule,” Tester said to Regan at a Senate appropriations subcommittee hearing. “You acknowledge that the only power plant this is really affecting is one in Colstrip, Montana.”

“The coal facility that you reference it is the highest emitter in the country,” Regan said about Colstrip at a House hearing on Tuesday.

"It 99.8 I think, as far as toxins," Zinke said about what is kept out of the air. "So competitiveness as far as manufacturing goes, how important is energy cost that?"

“Very important," Regan said.

Dr. Robert Merchant, a Pulmonologist at Billings Clinic says the MATS rule will make the air cleaner and healthier.”

"Along with those particulate emissions as particles, the small particles, the importance of them if they get inhaled deep into the lungs where they can cause lung damage," Merchant said about health concerns.

Both Tester and Zinke say it will cost too much to meet the MATS, which could eventually cause Colstrip to shut down.

"And you can explain how Colstrip told you that they can comply with the mercury, and they can be in business, up to 2040, according to your testing,” Zinke said to Regan.

"I didn't say Colstrip said they would do it,” Regan said. “I said that our analysis shows that they can."

"You also acknowledge it will take hundreds of millions of dollars to meet the standards and this is a power plant with the public depreciation dated 2042,” Tester said to Regan. “You and I both know there's no way they make hundreds of millions of dollars in investing in a power plant that has that depreciation date."

But Merchant says upgrading the plants is well worth the cost from a health standpoint.

"This one is projected about a three to one cost savings so it's going to save by reducing healthcare costs," Merchant said.

Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., and Rep. Matt Rosendale, R-Mont., expressed similar concerns to Tester's and Zinke's.

“The Biden administration’s accusation that Colstrip is ‘cheating the system’ is a reprehensible lie and an attack on Montanans and our Montana way of life,” Daines said in a news release. “The crushing mandates and regulations the Biden EPA issued last week were bad enough. Now we know the Biden administration will flat out lie in order to enact its climate agenda.”

The EPA emissions standards created for Colstrip Power Plant are unrealistic at best,” Rosendale said in a news release. “Furthermore, accusing Colstrip of cheating the system for producing too much mercury while the naturally occurring mercury in the Yellowstone River far exceeds the amount of mercury Colstrip produced is disingenuous. This is just another example of the EPA’s overreach targeting Montana’s businesses, economy, and citizens by creating emissions standards that are out of touch with scientific findings and the real-life impact.”

Last week, NorthWestern Energy issued a news release last week on the new rule.

“On-demand generation from natural gas and coal plants is critical for reliable and affordable power in all weather conditions,” said NorthWestern Energy President & CEO Brian Bird. “The EPA’s decisions include timelines and unproven technology that will increase the cost of energy service and jeopardize reliability.”