HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Nobody fully understands the rule behind a federal mandate to cut Montana power plants' carbon dioxide emission rates by nearly half over the next 15 years, but multiple groups are already jockeying to have their say in what the state ultimately recommends.
In August, the Environmental Protection Agency set targets for each state as part of President Barack Obama's plan to reduce emissions nationwide to 32 percent below 2005 levels. Montana's 2030 target is to reduce the rate of emissions by 47 percent compared to 2012.
Much of Montana's electricity generation comes from the eight working coal-fired plants in the state, resulting in one of the largest reduction requirements in the U.S., according to an analysis by the state Public Service Commission.
States have until September 2016 to submit their final plans or request a two-year extension. Officials are now exploring how to respond, even as regulators acknowledge they don't understand the 1,500-page rule and all the supporting documents just yet.
"A month from now we're going to understand things better and hopefully a little different than today," Montana Department of Environmental Quality air quality bureau chief David Klemp said Thursday.
Gov. Steve Bullock plans to form an advisory committee that will make recommendations on what actions the state will take. The Legislature also has formed a panel of lawmakers and citizens to examine the issue.
The panel's chairman, Sen. Jim Keane, D-Butte, said he expects their work to be "substantial."
"I don't want to turn this over to another group and say we have to accept these findings going forward," Keane told the panel at its first meeting on Thursday.
The EPA rule says the governor will submit the state's plan, Klemp said. Bullock may go with the recommendations of his advisory council, the legislative panel or others who come up with ideas, Klemp said.
"All options are on the table," he said. "All good ideas are being considered right now."
All sides are wondering whether Attorney General Tim Fox will file or join a lawsuit seeking to block the federal rule.
Fox hasn't decided yet, spokeswoman Anastasia Burton said Friday.
"The so-called Clean Power Plan also threatens state sovereignty, Montana jobs, and the reliability and affordability of power for consumers and businesses across the country. Therefore, the Attorney General is considering appropriate next steps to challenge the regulations," Burton said in a statement.
Pressure by the coal industry to oppose the rule is building.
"I believe that the six companies that I represent would support this commission adopting a position to push back against this rule," Bud Clinch, the executive director of the Montana Coal Council, told the legislative panel.
Doug Hardy, of the Montana Electric Cooperatives Association, said not enough is known yet about the rule for him to recommend a lawsuit to block the rule.
"It's hard to say doomsday right now but there are a lot of us who are very fearful," he said.