Missoula closer to supporting EPA’s Clean Power Plan despite state opposition

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Colstrip coal-fired plant. (MEIC)

By Martin Kidston/MISSOULA CURRENT

On a voice vote Wednesday, the Missoula City Council’s Committee of the Whole moved to join other U.S. cities in signing an amicus brief supporting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan – a plan which the state of Montana is suing to block.

The amicus brief, being circulated by the Sabine Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School, has already won the support of Seattle, Portland, Salt Lake City and Boulder, Colorado, among other cities.

The Missoula resolution is sponsored by City Council members Heidi West and Jordan Hess. The full council will consider final passage of the resolution on Monday.

“Yes, implementation of the Clean Power Plan would likely result in the phased and planned decommission of the Colstrip coal-fired plant (in Montana),” West said. “However, to imply that the future of Colstrip would be more secure without the implementation of the Clean Power Plan is equally unlikely.”

West said changes in the coal economy have been occurring independently of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. Arch Coal suspended plans for its own Otter Creek coal mine this month due to the coal market’s domestic and global decline, she said.

West added that a bill working its way through the Legislature in Washington State would further expedite the closure of the coal plant and others in the region.

“Colstrip is owned entirely by out-of-state entities,” said West. “While Montana recognizes hardships to the places and people through the decommissioning action, nationally, the energy climate is changing and the changes will be implemented within our boarders from outside forces with no understanding of local needs.”

Several City Council members opposed the resolution, including Ward 2 council member Harlan Wells and Ward 5 council member Julie Armstrong.

While Armstrong said she supports local initiatives, she said state leaders have already rejected the Clean Power Plan, including Attorney General Tim Fox, a Republican, and Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat.

Last October, Montana joined two-dozen other states in a lawsuit asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to halt implementation – and ultimately kill – the EPA plan.

“I don’t want to join in and sign this yet,” Armstrong said. “I want to give our governor and our state a chance to work this out.”

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.

Under the plan, target reductions set for Montana are 47 percent by 2030. Several state leaders have criticized the plan as unfair. Local supporters, however, have accused the state of failing to work proactively to address climate change.

“I understand Montana has a specific situation where jobs are dependent upon this industry, but I think we need to be forward looking,” said Ward 3 council member Gwen Jones. “This is an industry that’s exiting. Those decision are being made by other people – other business entities out there in world – and not by us.”

Ward 1 council member Bryan von Lossberg also supported the plan.

“I’m disappointed that our state officials haven’t been behind this more,” he said. “We’ve had great success passing our own energy and climate plan here in Missoula. Supporting this is an extension of the values we represent.”

In 2008, the University of Montana’s Environmental Studies program assisted the city in detailing its 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.

“We need to be forward looking,” said Jones. “The state of Montana will come up with a strategy – that’s their job. I think we as a community can have our own voice and say this Clean Power Plan is valuable.”