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Trump greenhouse-emission rule may not have much impact in Montana, observers say

Posted at 5:40 PM, Jun 19, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-19 19:40:34-04

HELENA — While the Trump administration Wednesday unveiled its final rule to repeal Obama-era regulations on power-plant emissions, those watching the power and coal industries in Montana say the change ultimately may not make much difference here.

The rule, which erases Obama’s Clean Power Plan, requires power plants to cut 2005-level greenhouse-gas emissions by 35 percent, by 2030 — a smaller reduction than required by the Obama plan. It also gives states more authority to devise plans for emission reductions and the local mix of power production.

The Trump administration suggested that the plan, dubbed the Affordable Clean Energy rule, could help some coal-fired plants by allowing them to operate longer without expensive upgrades.

Montana’s Republican congressman, Greg Gianforte, hailed the new plan for ending the “war on coal.”

“I welcome this new rule that will help reduce emissions, maintain state authority and flexibility and recognizes the important role that innovation and modernization can play in our existing coal-generation facilities,” he said in a statement.

Just last week, Talen Energy, the operator of coal-fired power plants at Colstrip in southeastern Montana, announced it will be shutting down Colstrip 1 and 2 at the end of this year.

A Talen spokeswoman told MTN News that it’s still evaluating the impact the rule may have on the future of Colstrip plants 3 and 4, which are continuing to operate.

Bud Clinch of the Montana Coal Council said Wednesday he hadn’t yet seen the new rule. But he said the political and market forces affecting Colstrip have been in play for several years, and new regulations may not change things.

The coal-mining industry has seen an uptick in production within the last year, he said, but remains below its levels of several years ago.

Anne Hedges, deputy director of the Montana Environmental Information Center, a sharp critic of coal, told MTN News that the energy market is having more of an impact on coal production than any rule change by the Trump administration.

“Coal is getting more expensive and the market is looking for cheaper power, not more expensive power,” she said. “You can’t spend $150 million every year on coal, on your fuel, and compete in a marketplace with resources where the fuel is free, and expect to last very long.”

She also said the Trump rule on greenhouse-gas emissions will do next to nothing to address climate change, noting that it gives states three years to devise a reduction plan and the Environmental Protection Agency another year to implement it.

“This rule is much ado about nothing,” Hedges said. “It certainly doesn’t solve the climate crisis … and it really is just punting the problem to the next administration.”

Other critics said the emission-reduction target of the Trump plan is less than half of what climate experts estimate is needed to avoid damaging warming of the plant.

And, industry analysts noted that many big owners of power plants already are pledging to cut greenhouse-gas emissions by greater levels than required by the Trump plan.

A spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Quality said it is reviewing the Trump plan, but and would have no immediate comment at this time.