U. S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., and U. S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., continue to squabble over Tester’s record on the environment and job creation, ranging from logging to coal power plants.
The coal topic was a hot moment during Saturday’s debate, with the candidates taking shots about PPL Montana’s plan to mothball a Billings power plant, and the two campaigns continuing the fight in press releases.
The debate continues today, with Rehberg scheduled to hold a press conference in Billings with U. S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., to talk about the impact of PPL Montana’s plan to mothball the J. E. Courette coal-fired power plant in Billings and the impact of Environmental Protection Agency regulations Rehberg says is causing the plant’s closure, costing Billings 35 jobs and $10 million a year to its economy.
Rehberg is citing Tester’s June 20 vote against an Inhofe proposal that would have prevented enforcement of resolutions as the reason PPL is mothballing the plant.
"Senator Tester could have voted to stop these Obama EPA regulations, but instead of standing up for Montana jobs, he sided with President Obama, and now folks in Montana are paying the price, ” Rehberg campaign spokesman Chris Bond said this morning in an email to the Havre Daily News. “This is just the latest example of Tester putting his liberal, partisan agenda ahead of Montana jobs, and voters will hold him accountable for his wrong priorities at the polls. ”
The Rehberg campaign in a press release Friday cited an article published Thursday in the Billings Gazette, quoting, “the fate of a coal-fired power plant in Billings has become a flash point, with Rehberg blaming Tester and the Obama administration for the plant’s likely closure in 2015.
“Rehberg, his fellow Republicans and the plant’s owner, PPL Montana, point to a 2011 federal air-quality regulation as a primary reason for the recently announced ‘mothballing’ of the 154-megawatt Corette power plant. ”
The Rehberg campaign is citing the requests of Montana groups, including the Billings Chamber of Commerce, the Montana Chamber of Commerce and the Montana Business Leadership Council, asking Tester to oppose the EPA regulations.
The Tester campaign cited the same Billings Gazette article Thursday.
“As Lobbyist Dennis Rehberg tries to take issue with PPL’s planned closure of its Corette coal-fired power plant in Billings, independent fact-checkers are uncovering the truth, ” Tester campaign spokesman Aaron Murphy said in the emailed release. “ And as usual, the truth is different than Dennis Rehberg’s talking points. ”
Further down in the article, the Gazette reports that, while the EPA regulation played a part in its decision to mothball the Courette plant, the market is a key factor, with low natural gas prices making the benefits of upgrading that plant questionable.
Murphy this morning cited a June 2012 letter to Tester from PPL Montana in which the company representative said PPL is “well-positioned to meet requirements of the Cross State Air Pollution Rule and the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards rule. ”
The letter reports that PPL spent $2.7 billion in Montana and Pennsylvania over the last five years to meet the EPA requirements.
The Gazette article reports that two of PPL’s Colstrip plants near Billings meet the EPA requirements, and two more should be able to meet the requirements with an upgrade.
Congress originally passed the requirements in the 1990 Clean Air Act, but some plants were exempt — essentially grandfathered in.
In 2008, the last year of the administration of President George W. Bush, The U. S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that a 2005 EPA exemption — a cap and trade rule allowing power plants to purchase credits from other plants that had cut emissions — violated the Clean Air Act.
The June 20 vote was on Inhofe’s proposal to continue exemptions for coal- and oil-fired plants.
The Rehberg campaign also continued its attack in Friday’s release on a stalled proposal by Tester dealing with U. S. Forest Service land in western Montana.
Tester’s bill proposes creating the first wilderness areas in Montana in decades, creating recreation areas and mandating logging on forest service lands, with one focus on areas with dead trees killed by pine beetles.
Rehberg has consistently opposed the bill, which Tester announced he has again attached to a Senate bill, his third attempt to pass the proposal.
Rehberg’s campaign cited the bill as an example of Tester’s anti-business, pro-environmentalism stance, which it said has made him a favorite of environmental groups.
“Tester's anti-coal votes aren't the only example where his allegiance to extreme environmentalists is causing him problems, ” Friday’s release said.
The release cites an Environment and Economic Policy article in which Beaverhead County residents speak against Tester’s bill. The release quotes Steve Jennings, president of the Beaverhead Outdoors Association in Dillon, as saying the bill rewards extreme environmentalists.
"That is the way it works in Tester's office: ignore, and blow off anybody who isn't paying millions in contributions to his campaign, which is basically the environmental community, because they want Montana locked up," Jennings is quoted as saying.
The Tester campaign has cited collaboration between environmentalists, recreationalists and members of the lumber industry as the driving force behind the bill.
Rehberg has said the problem with the lumber part of the bill is that environmental groups could sue to stop the logging.
Murphy said this morning that the headbutting between logging and environmentalism was what started the problem.
“If Congressman Dennis Rehberg started putting Montana ahead of his own political campaign, and if he had listened to the 72 percent of Montanans who support this bipartisan, made-in-Montana solution, he would know that his false, 30-year-old talking points are exactly what caused this problem in the first place, ” Murphy said.