Montana Coal Battle Fueled by EPA Clean Power Plan

Rep. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), who wants to take John Walsh’s place in the U.S. Senate, is doing his best to block the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan that was proposed in June.

Daines’ bill, a companion to the Senate’s Coal Country Protection Act, would prevent the EPA’s proposed regulations from taking effect until four benchmarks are met: The Department of Labor certifies that the regulations would not cost jobs; the Congressional Budget Office certifies that the regulations would not result in any loss in the gross domestic product; the Energy Information Administration certifies that the regulations would not increase electricity rates; the Federal American Electric Reliability Corporation certifies that electricity deliver would remain reliable.

Walsh has not come out squarely against Daines’ proposal, but he has sided with the Obama administration in the past on the climate change-clean energy debate.

The EPA wants new regulations that would cut power plant emissions by 30 percent by 2030. The Clean Power Plan that was released June 2 would for the first time cut carbon pollution from existing power plants, which the EPA said are the largest source of carbon pollution in the nation.

EPA officials said the proposal includes a flexible timeline for states to follow for submitting plans to the agency—with plans due in June 2016, with the option to use a two-step process for submitting final plans if more time is needed. States that have already invested in energy-efficiency programs will be able to build on these programs during the compliance period to help make progress toward meeting their goal.

EPA is accepting comment on the proposal in the Federal Register and will hold four public hearings on the proposed Clean Power Plan during the week of July 28 in Denver, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and Pittsburgh.

Daines has introduced the Coal Jobs and Affordable Energy Protection Act that would block the new regulations that he said would force higher energy costs on American families and mean the loss of good-paying jobs in Montana.

In the press release announcing his proposal, Daines pointed to a statement from the AFL-CIO-affiliated United Mine Workers of America, arguing that the EPA rules “will lead to long-term and irreversible job losses for thousands of coal miners, electrical workers, utility workers, boilermakers, railroad workers and others without achieving any significant reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions.”

Daines said nearly 5,000 people in Montana have jobs because of the size of the state’s coal industry. Montana contains more coal reserves than any other state and ranks sixth among the 50 states in coal production.

The Montana Coal Council says 1,224 people were directly employed in surface mining in the state in 2013, with an estimated payroll of more than $115 million. There are six major coal mines in Montana -- five mining subbituminous coal and one mining lignite coal, according to the Coal Council.

Daines also said Montana gets more than half its power from coal and the average retail price for electricity in the state is 8.42 cents per kilowatt hour, among the lowest in the nation.

“Montanans rely on coal to provide good, high-paying jobs, deliver affordable electricity to our families and to fund our schools, libraries and parks. President Obama’s war on coal is a war on Montana’s economy, workers and families,” Daines said.

Sen. Walsh (D-Mont.) has not commented on Daines’ latest proposal.

Nor has Walsh passed final judgment publicly on the EPA Clean Power Plan. Walsh told the Billings Gazette June 3 he would be “listening to Montanans in the coming months to make sure that any final rule from the EPA is right for Montana’s future and for Montana’s jobs now.”