Senator Roger Webb: Montanans right to defend coal-power jobs, economy

President Barack Obama’s federal rule to regulate carbon dioxide is now official. All states are required to reduce carbon emissions in their borders to some degree, but for whatever reason Montana drew the short straw and has the largest reduction target (47 percent) to meet in the nation.

The only practical way to meet the president’s plan in Montana is to shut down the Colstrip coal-fired generating facility, and possibly others around Montana. This is a really big deal. And not just for the thousands of blue-collar families who rely on Colstrip for their livelihoods; Colstrip is one of the single largest economic drivers in our state, and losing it will send an economic shock wave that will be felt throughout Montana.

The Colstrip generator and the coal mines that supply it are a major part of Montana’s tax base. This is intentionally so — we have structured our state revenue system in such a way so the hundreds of millions of dollars in coal tax revenues generated annually get doled out to communities in every corner of Montana.

The president’s carbon regulations create a giant, gaping hole in our state’s budget picture. The most likely outcome in all of this is going to be a huge property tax hike on Montana homeowners and small businesses to fill the gap.

Losing Colstrip and other coal-fired generators also means that Montanans are going to pay more for their energy. A lot more. It’s going to get more expensive to light and heat your home, and energy-intensive industries, like agriculture and manufacturing, will be hit hard.

And let’s remember, the president’s plan does relatively nothing to address climate change. It’s just a symbolic gesture to the “global community” that Obama is a good guy. The actual rules — for all the pain and suffering they will cause — result in about a 1 percent reduction in global carbon emissions.

The best shot Montana has at stopping the economic destruction that is coming our way is the legal challenge Attorney General Tim Fox and other states’ attorneys general have filed to stop the plan. They’re challenging the EPA’s authority to issue this massive rule in the first place, which was not even authorized by Congress.

Fox is showing real leadership. But we need a unified front from our elected officials. Gov. Steve Bullock needs to throw his weight in with the attorney general, as other Democratic governors have done, to protect the jobs at Colstrip.

This is not a debate about whether climate change is happening or not. The debate should be about to what degree are the risks, and what is the smartest way to address those risks. The president’s “at all costs” approach ignores the economic realities on the ground — and the real devastation he is creating at an individual level.

There are far less destructive ways to address climate change. We can do it without having to dismantle our Montana economy. In fact, Montana is positioned to be a leader in developing the clean coal technology that holds the most potential to responsibly address climate change.

We need our Montana elected officials to be unified in protecting Montana’s interests. Fox has shown decisive leadership in challenging the EPA. Most of our congressional delegation has backed him as well. But most of all, we need Bullock to make a more definitive stand for Montana’s interests.

Time is short to save Colstrip and Montana jobs.

Senator Roger Webb, R-Billings, is chairman of the Montana Senate Energy & Telecommunications Committee.


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