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Governor: Montana can cut carbon, keep jobs


Last updated 9/20/2014 at 12:29pm

BILLINGS (AP) — Gov. Steve Bullock said Friday that Montana can meet the Obama administration's goal of reducing climate pollution while protecting energy-related jobs and avoiding the closure of coal plants that generate the bulk of the state's emissions.

The White House plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030 has generated a backlash in many coal-dependent states.

Republicans in Montana have sought to capitalize on the issue ahead of November's election, asserting the climate plan amounts to a war on coal.

With Friday's announcement, Bullock, a Democrat, moved to blunt such criticisms with alternatives that cut emissions but don't shut down coal plants. Those include the huge Colstrip Steam Electric Station run by PPL Montana, a 2,400-megawatt facility that churns out about 15 million tons of carbon dioxide a year, or about half the state's total.

"I'm less interested in the rhetorical fights and more interested in knowing what the proposed rules could mean for Montanans," Bullock wrote in a Friday letter addressed to Montana residents. "There are many different ways we can choose to reduce our carbon impacts."

A Montana Department of Environmental Quality study released by Bullock offered five potential scenarios, including the more aggressive use of renewable energies, greater efficiencies and new technologies to capture carbon dioxide and keep it from entering the atmosphere.

All five scenarios would keep existing power sources except the 154-megawatt Corrette coal plant in Billings, Bullock's office said. PPL is slated to mothball Corrette by next year.

The Department of Environmental Quality study was silent on the potential for the White House proposal to hurt the coal industry on the mining side. Montana leads U.S. states in coal supplies, with an estimated 120 billion tons in reserves. Its six major mines produced 42 million tons of coal last year.

Bullock acknowledged emissions reductions in other states could have a negative impact on mining in Montana, but he said they were outside the scope of the department's study.

Chuck Denowh with the industry group Count On Coal Montana said there was "good stuff" in Bullock's announcement, such as the emphasis on energy efficiency and carbon capture. But Denowh criticized Bullock for not joining other elected officials who have pushed back against the White House plan.

"Montana exports 75 percent of the coal we produce, so that's really where the danger lies," he said.

Conservation groups, environmentalists and the Montana AFL-CIO labor union lined up in support of Bullocks proposal. Anne Hedges with the Montana Environmental Information Center said the Obama administration's proposal was weak to begin with, and its emissions targets could be met "without breaking a sweat."

Draft rules from the Environmental Protection Agency in June give states flexibility to decide how to meet their share of the nationwide reduction in carbon dioxide levels.

Supporters contend the reductions are needed to stave off rising temperatures that are spurring more forest fires, depleting rivers and leading to drought. Critics warn the rules could drive up electricity prices — an assertion the administration disputes.

Montana is on its way to meeting its reduction goal under a 2005 state law that required 15 percent of electricity to come from renewable sources by 2015. As a result, emissions would have to be cut by an additional 21 percent from recent levels to meet the Obama administration's goal.

States have until 2017 to come up with their own emission-reduction plans and until 2018 if they partner with other states.


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