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Missoula may join national cities in support of EPA’s Clean Power Plan

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Coal-fired power plant in Colstrip, Montana.

By Martin Kidston/MISSOULA CURRENT

The city of Missoula may join a group of other municipalities in support of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which has been temporarily blocked by a contingent of national industry groups and 27 states – including Montana.

The plan, issued by the EPA last October, creates national standards to address carbon pollution from power plants. Montana, led by Attorney General Tim Fox, has joined a host of industry groups and states to stop it from taking effect.

But the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School has spent the past month building a coalition of local governments to support the Clean Power Plan and counter those who are blocking its implementation.

Missoula City Council members Heidi West and Jordan Hess are leading an effort in Missoula to join an amicus brief prepared the by Sabine Center in support of the plan. The Committee of the Whole will discuss the issue this week.

“The brief is a big letter of support with no legal ramifications for us,” West said recently. “This is in line with our climate and action plan. It moves us to diversifying our energy.”

Climate change has been a hot topic in Missoula over the past year. In September, the City Council’s Administration and Finance Committee unanimously approved a contract with a local firm to create a “solar roadmap” to help expand the city’s use of clean energy.

West said joining the brief would help reiterate the city’s intent to diversity its energy future and reduce carbon pollution. The city’s proposed resolution states that power plants are the single largest source of greenhouse gas emitters in the country.

According to the EPA, carbon dioxide remains the most prevalent greenhouse gas pollutant, accounting for 82 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. The Clean Power Plan looks to reduce that.

“This created a national standard for carbon emissions and looks to reduce the impacts on the environment and climate change,” West said.

In 2008, the University of Montana’s Environmental Studies program assisted the city in detailing its own greenhouse gas emissions. That year, the inventory found that municipal emissions totaled 11,540 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents.

The figure emerged as a baseline standard against which the city plans to make progress. Plans currently call for a 30 percent reduction in emissions by 2017, with plans to become carbon neutral by 2025.

To achieve that goal, Mayor John Engen formed a task force to draft the Conservation and Climate Action Plan. The result detail strategies to reduce emissions across a number of fields.

Harlan Wells, who is considering challenging Engen in a run for mayor next year, said he opposes the city’s efforts to join the brief in support of the Clean Power Plan. He called it a “Bloomberg policy” and said it was an effort to legislate eastern Montana “into oblivion.”

“I cant help but notice it’s a Bloomberg initiative that’s floating around,” Wells said. “I generally have issues with groups from the Northeast asking us to do things on their behalf, especially when it will have a direct impact on our neighboring cities in Montana.”

At least 18 other cities and municipal organizations have signed the brief, including Seattle, Portland, Salt Lake City and Boulder, Colorado. The Sabine Center is looking to grow the list of supporters to defend the EPA plan.

“A large group will send a powerful message to the court that EPA’s efforts to combat climate change enjoy widespread support from the nation’s local governments because they will assist local governments by lessening the impacts of climate change and incentivizing the transition to a low carbon energy supply,” reads the Sabine Center’s memo.

The City Council committee will take up the issue on Wednesday.