Montana’s top environmental official said Tuesday the state will weigh in on proposed greenhouse-gas emission rules for new coal-fired power plants — but noted that Montana has a law that already imposes strict standards.

“It looks as though (the federal) rule is a little weaker than Montana’s,” said Tracy Stone-Manning, director of the state Department of Environmental Quality.

“We’re analyzing the draft rule now to understand it, and see how it could affect future (power plants) in Montana,” she continued. “We’ll take part in the rule-making to make sure that our voice is heard and that our economy and environment are not harmed.”

Montana doesn’t have any new coal-fired power plants proposed at this time, but it does have several existing plants.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Friday unveiled proposed greenhouse-gas emission standards for new coal-fired power plants.

The proposal would limit carbon-dioxide emissions to 1,100 pounds per megawatt-hour of produced power. Carbon-dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas, which climate scientists say are a major cause of global warming.

Stone-Manning said the rule would mean an approximate 40 percent reduction in carbon produced by a new plant, compared to current plants.

But a 2007 Montana law says until the state or federal government adopt carbon-capture standards, state utility regulators cannot approve utility acquisition of a coal-fired power plant that doesn’t capture at least 50 percent of its carbon emissions.

The provision was inserted into a 2007 bill that re-regulated Montana’s electric utility industry, 10 years after deregulation and restructuring.

State Sen. Alan Olson, R-Roundup, a lead sponsor of the bill, said Senate Democrats in 2007 insisted on inclusion of the carbon-capture language. Democrats held a two-vote majority in the Senate that year.

Olson said Tuesday he wasn’t wild about the provision, but “if that’s what it was going to take (to pass the bill), I guess I was willing to compromise.”

Stone-Manning said once the EPA’s proposed rule on new plant emissions is published in the federal register, there will be 60 days to comment on it.

Supporters of coal development in Montana criticized the EPA proposal on new coal-plant emissions, saying the government shouldn’t be putting new obstacles in the way of coal.

“This means we’re not going to build any new coal plants in this country,” said Chuck Denowh, spokesman for Count on Coal Montana, a coalition of interests supporting coal development. “For a state like Montana that has more coal in the ground than anyone else, that’s bad news.”

Denowh said the rule, if adopted, would be requiring coal-fired power plants to have carbon-capture technology that isn’t commercially ready. The EPA should allow for more time to develop the technology to capture carbon, he said.

Denowh said coal supporters also are worried about EPA’s upcoming rules on carbon emission for existing coal-fired plants.

Stone-Manning said the state should have more say over how the existing-plant rules are implemented, because they’ll be under a different section of the Clean Air Act than the new-plant rules.

Missoulian State Bureau reporter Mike Dennison can be reached at 1-800-525-4920 or by email at mike.dennison@lee.net.

(1) comment

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