By Martin Kidston/MISSOULA CURRENT
The Missoula City Council on Monday joined a coalition of U.S. cities in supporting the Clean Power Plan, a federal rule intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources, including coal-fired electric plants.
The 8-4 vote makes Missoula the first city in Montana to join the coalition by signing onto an amicus brief being circulated by the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at the Columbia Law School.
The opportunity to join the brief was well received by two-thirds of the City Council, along with city residents wanting tougher action on climate change. The effort was sponsored by City Council members Heidi West and Jordan Hess.
“As cities, we sit here spinning our wheels and grasping at straws, trying to do something on issues that are largely ignored or blocked by gridlock at the national level,” said Hess, representing Ward 2. “This is an opportunity for our city to take a step to address climate change.”
The Sabine Center brief looks to counter an opposing coalition of industry groups and states – including Montana – that have sued to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from implementing its Clean Power Plan.
Last October, Montana joined 24 other states in asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to halt implementation – and ultimately overturn – the EPA plan.
“We shouldn’t be using the EPA to force the coal and natural resource extraction industry into decline,” said Ward 2 council member Harlan Wells in opposing the city’s resolution. “There are families with mortgages, retirement funds – a lot of stuff that would just vaporize. I can’t imagine how upset I’d be if another city was doing something similar to us.”
Both representatives from Ward 5, including Julie Armstrong and Annelise Hedahl, joined Wells and Jon Wilkins in opposing the resolution.
“I’ve lived in a place where you pull something out of the ground for a living,” said Armstrong. “We don’t manufacture anything here anymore. We don’t pull anything out of the ground. We don’t do a lot of logging. But they do that in the rest of the state, and they depend on it heavily for jobs.”
Before the vote, members of the City Council received a letter from Colstrip mayor John Williams, asking them to consider the positive impacts coal has on the state’s economy.
Those who supported the resolution were sympathetic to the impacts that a changing energy economy has had on Colstrip and eastern Montana. However, they said, the quickening pace of climate change must be addressed.
“I feel like laws create the motivation to change,” said Ward 3 council member Gwen Jones. “We’ve known for decades that coal is not a clean energy – we’ve known for a long time these issues were coming. We need to keep the pressure on for change to happen. Our environment is changing much faster than we’re reacting.”