Daines praises EPA’s rollback of emission standards; opponents fear environmental disaster

In this July 27, 2018 photo, the Dave Johnson coal-fired power plant is silhouetted against the morning sun in Glenrock, Wyo. The Trump administration on Tuesday proposed a major rollback of Obama-era regulations on coal-fired power plants, striking at one of the former administration’s legacy programs to rein in climate-changing fossil-fuel emissions. (AP Photo/J. David Ake)

Despite the deepening impacts of climate change, U.S. Sen. Steve Daines on Friday praised a Trump administration proposal to roll back emission standards in the Clean Power Plan, saying it was needed to boost the coal industry and protect jobs.

Opponents, including those in Montana, blasted the move as an environmental disaster.

This week, the Environmental Protection Agency announced plans to remove emission standards for coal plants, saying they were unattainable and would have blocked the construction of new coal plants.

In praising the move, Daines said the revised rule will use new standards based on existing technology to ensure coal-fired power remains part of the nation’s energy mix.

“The EPA Power Plan was another example of President Obama and Gina McCarthy regulating by having the tail wagging the dog,” Daines said in a statement. “Their standards were unattainable and did nothing to clean up the environment and instead killed high-paying jobs. Today’s action by the Trump administration will help save Montana jobs and help create affordable and reliable energy across the country.”

The EPA offered its proposal despite the coal industry’s decline and dire warnings from scientists around the world about the impacts of global warming.

The consumption of domestic coal is on track to hit its lowest level in 40 years and is likely to drop another 8 percent in 2019, according to the Energy Information Administration.

“Nothing is going to revive the coal industry, because nobody wants to pay more money for power,” Ann Hedges, deputy director for the Montana Environmental Information Center, told the Missoula Current. “Coal is not coming back because it’s uneconomical, in addition to being an environmental disaster.”

In announcing the proposal, EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler said the Obama administration’s rule requiring carbon capture equipment on new coal plants was too expensive and therefore unrealistic.

Coal advocates praised the changes.

“Montana has the extraordinary potential to help be a leader in new coal technologies thanks to our existing infrastructure, and the fact that our state has larger coal reserves than any other in the nation,” said Colstrip United Director Lori Shaw. “The reasonable modification of these regulations will help create a more stable and fair playing field for new coal technologies.”

Still, several states, including Oregon and Washington, have joined a global alliance to phase out coal in favor of cleaner, more modern power in an effort to stave off global warming and the environmental disasters it promises to bring.

But amid their fight to save the coal industry, Montana leaders have been relatively silent on the issue of climate change. Daines has denied climate change, though a recent Monmouth University poll found that 64 percent of Republicans now believe it to be real compared to just 49 percent in 2015.

The same poll found that 8 in 10 Americans believe climate change is causing extreme weather, and 54 percent consider it a “very serious” problem. The U.S government’s Fourth National Climate Assessment, released last month, also warned of the potentially devastating impacts of climate change.

“I think the impacts of climate change should come out of his (Daines’) paycheck,” said Hedges. “If he’s not willing to address climate change, he should have to pay the cost every day Montana has to pay for the impacts of climate change. It’s shortsighted and it’s bad for our economy to ignore the very real price of climate change.”