Montana gov. seeks advice on meeting new power plant regulations


HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana Gov. Steve Bullock is establishing an advisory council to help craft Montana's response to new federal rules meant to reduce pollution from power plants blamed in climate change even as the state challenges the new requirements.

The Democrat says the state can't ignore the fact that it will be required to address climate change, and he doesn't want the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency dictating how the state meets the new requirements.

"We see the effects of climate change on our everyday lives including increased wildfires and smoky valleys, lower stream flows and shorter fishing seasons and enormous rains and crop damage," Bullock said Thursday in announcing he signed an executive order creating the interim Montana Clean Power Plan Advisory Council.

He believes Montanans can find a compromise that includes using coal to generate power and maintaining those related jobs, while protecting the environment, he said.

Bullock expressed frustration that Montana had begun working on a plan to meet draft EPA rules, which would have protected existing jobs and created new ones, but then the agency released final rules that required the state to cut its carbon monoxide emissions by 47 percent by 2030. Montana is home to seven coal-fired power plants, large coal reserves, numerous hydroelectric dams and abundant wind energy potential.

The EPA imposed on Montana the largest emissions cut of any state and the largest change from draft rules to final rules for any state, changes that Bullock said are unfair.

Montana is among 27 states challenging the EPA rules. While it is important for the courts to clarify some issues, Bullock said if the standards are upheld, Montana needs to be ready with its own solution to remain in control of its energy future, its economy and its environment.

Possibilities include working with other western states in a regional effort.

Bullock said the people he appoints to the council will have a record of focusing on solutions, rather than divisions.

"They will not agree on every issue, but ultimately they will recognize that allowing the federal government to dictate our energy future is not in our best interest," he said.

The council will include coal-fired power plant owners; conservation, wildlife and environmental interests; large industrial electric customers, organized labor, renewable energy, coal mining interests, government regulators and tribal interests.

The state is taking applications for about two dozen positions on the council through the end of the month. The council will have until July 2016 to present its advice to the DEQ, including an explanation for why the state will need until September 2018 to submit its final plan.

Ron Cooper with Wind Chasers in Bozeman and Mark Fix, past chairman of the Northern Plains Resource Council, said the state needs to take advantage of its renewable energy resources to create more jobs and meet energy demands.

Rex Rogers, the business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1638 in Colstrip, said he believes the state can come up with a plan that will help the state and its workers.

Shelby DeMars, spokeswoman for Count on Coal Montana said it appears the governor is taking a balanced approach, adding "the real proof in his priorities will be shown by who he appoints to his advisory committee."

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