Senate Hopeful Wants EPA Administrator to Visit Montana Coal Town

Rep. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) invites — no, Daines demands — Gina McCarthy, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency visit the town of Colstrip, Mont., to see for herself the impact of her agency’s Clean Power Plan on that community.

So far, he has not received her RSVP.

This time next year, he could have a lot more pull with the EPA. Daines could be forgiven if he is doing some early packing. He can’t be too worried about winning the November Senate election.

Rasmussen Reports gives him an 18-point lead among Montana voters in his bid to replace Sen. John Walsh (D-Mont.). Even Democrat-leaning CEA/Hickman Analytics has him up by 12 points.

But Daines is very concerned about the people back in Montana, especially the people who call Colstrip home. Daines thinks the very existence of their community is endangered by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan proposal.

The EPA wants to cut carbon pollution from power plants by 30 percent below 2005 levels. It would allow a state-by-state plan to reach that goal, but Daines said it would diminish coal’s role in energy production, force higher energy costs upon American families and cost good-paying Montana jobs.

“Hundreds of hard-working Montanans depend on jobs in Colstrip’s coal-fired power plants and its coal mines to provide for their families,” Daines said on the House floor.

Daines said visiting the people of Colstrip is the very least McCarthy could do after The Hill reported she met with “a group of 24 liberal senators” to push the EPA plan.

Colstrip is close to being a “company town,” and Western Energy Co. is the company. Western has four power plants in Colstrip, a town with a median household income of close to $75,000 thanks to Western.

It is not like the people of Colstrip are awash in an ocean of coal money. But it is close.

And Montana benefits as well. Western Energy paid the state $28 million in taxes in 2012 on its Rosebud Mine, according to The Billings Gazette.

Montana’s coal industry supports more than 5,000 jobs in the state, according to Daines’ office. The state contains more coal reserves than any other state and ranks sixth overall in coal production nationwide.

Montana gets more than half its power from coal, keeping electricity prices low. The average retail price in Montana is currently 8.42 cents per kilowatt hour, among the lowest in the nation.

Coal provides more than $100 million in tax revenue to the state of Montana, which funds schools, infrastructure, libraries and parks.

However, as important as coal is to the economies of Montana and Colstrip, McCarthy has yet to send her RSVP, accepting or declining Daines’ invitation.

“We have not yet received a response from Administrator McCarthy, but families in Colstrip have sent a strong message that the EPA’s job-killing regulations and the Obama Administration’s war on coal are a direct threat to the thousands of Montana families who rely on coal for their livelihoods and for a source of affordable energy,” said Daines’ communications director Alee Lockman.

Daines, a member of the House Natural Resources Committee and Congressional Coal Caucus, introduced the Protecting Coal Jobs and Affordable Energy Act, which would stop the EPA's regulations from taking effect unless the government can certify that they would not kill jobs, increase electricity rates or harm the nation’s gross domestic product.

He is also a co-sponsor of H.R. 3826, the Electricity Security and Affordability Act, which would provide that Congress, not the EPA, set the effective date for any carbon dioxide regulations developed by the EPA. It passed the House earlier this year but has been blocked from coming to the Senate floor for a vote.

Daines said, “I urge Administrator McCarthy to get out of Washington, D.C. and speak with the Montana families that will be directly – and negatively – affected by these regulations and explain to them why the Obama administration is waging a war on their livelihoods and their town.”

Rick Harbin, the parks department director in Colstrip, knows what he will tell McCarthy if she finds her way out of the Beltway to the heartland.

Harbin told The Billings Gazette he and his neighbors know how much money Western Energy spends on “taking care of Mother Earth.”

“People can say anything they want, but I’m no dummy and the people that are working out there are no dummies. If what was happening was going to kill them, we wouldn’t be living right next door.”

Walsh has said that humans are responsible for climate change, and have a responsibility to fix it.

But he stopped short in June of endorsing the EPA Clean Power Plan. Walsh only went so far as to say 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.”

Andrea Helling, Walsh’s Senate office communications director, told the Washington Times Walsh would release his “10 in 10” plan soon.

It calls for the federal government to invest at least $10 billion to build 10 power plants over the next 10 years that are capable of capturing and storing carbon dioxide.

Lockman said the Daines House office had not seen Walsh’s 10 in 10 proposal but “it looks like his proposal does nothing to actually address the EPA’s job-killing regulations.”

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