Montana Public Service Commission backs Trump’s emissions rule in 3-2 vote

(Havre Herald) Although it is too early to say just what effect the new regulations will have on Montana utilities, the Trump administration’s proposed rules for utility plant CO2 emissions seem to be a reasonable approach, said Travis Kavulla.

Kavulla is the Montana Public Service Commission representative from District 1, which includes Havre, Great Falls and all of northeast Montana.

The all-Republican commission voted 3-2 last week to comment in favor of the president’s plan. The two dissenting members felt there was no need for any emission regulations.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency gave the public until Wednesday to file comments.

The new EPA rules, called the Affordable Clean Energy rules, were introduced after the U.S. Supreme Court put the brakes on the Obama administration’s more stringent and more complicated proposal.

“America needs an all of the above energy strategy,” said PSC Chair Brad Johnson, R-East Helena, citing his support for a mixture of energy sources, renewable and nonrenewable.“This is a good plan to reduce emissions without sandbagging our economy.”

The Obama rules would have required a 40 percent reduction in emissions in Montana by 2040. Kavulla said doing without any emission reduction plan would not be wise. He said the U.S. Supreme Court ruled five years ago that CO2, or carbon dioxide, should be regulated.

Later, it ruled against the Obama plan. Based on that ruling, the Trump administration began work on a modified proposal.

Kavulla said the Obama proposal was complicated and “kind of squirrely,” and would have been difficult for utilities to follow.

He said EPA officials would probably have liked to avoid the controversy and come up with no policy at all, but that would have opened the door to a lawsuit and possibly the reimposition of the Obama rules.

Still, the two dissenting commissioners said there was no need for any rules.

Commissioners Tony O’Donnell of Billings and Roger Koopman of Bozeman conceded the plan represented an improvement over the Obama administration’s proposal.

“There is no crisis,” O’Donnell said.

While the EPA rules were seen as going too far by the two commissioners, they were also received unfavorably by the environmental movement, who pointed to the report itself that predicted there would be 1,400 more premature deaths because of the less stringent rules.

“This is a double-barreled assault on climate policy,” Joseph Goffman, who is now executive director of the Environmental & Energy Law Program at Harvard University, was quoted by CBS News.

An EPA spokesman said it was likely that no matter what the EPA did, another lawsuit would result.

This story initially appeared at The Havre Harald, an independent news source on the Hi-Line.