It’s time for Montanans to start finding common ground on coal, carbon and federal regulations.

It’s not going to be easy, but the clock is ticking and it’s better for Montana to get ahead of the federal carbon emissions rules before they are finalized. If we don’t come up with our own plan, we may very well lose the opportunity to meet the new emissions standards our way. And the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is holding a public comment period until December, making this an excellent time to start this important statewide conversation.

But where to start? Fortunately, a week ago the Montana Department of Environmental Quality released an analysis of the state’s options for meeting the federal standards as currently proposed. Each of the five recommendations contained in the white paper would bring the state into compliance with the proposed rules while retaining the energy jobs that already exist in Montana - and even creating new ones.

The overall objective, as set out by President Barack Obama, is to gradually reduce the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions within the foreseeable future. This past June, in keeping with that objective, the EPA set carbon emissions reduction targets for each state, but it also gave each state the option of submitting its own plan for meeting these targets. The EPA may approve final rules in 2016, but efforts are underway to extend that timeline.

In Montana, the goal is to reduce statewide emissions by

21 percent by the year 2030, from the current level of 2,246 pounds of carbon dioxide for every megawatt-hour of electricity to about 1,771 pounds per megawatt-hour.

Montana could achieve this in a variety of ways. We could increase the efficiency of coal-fired plants, capture emissions from those plants or invest in the development of more renewable power, for instance. These are some of the options detailed in the DEQ’s analysis.

But eliminating coal – or curtailing Montana’s coal-fired power plants – is not an option.

In a meeting at the Missoulian this week, DEQ Director Tracy Stone-Manning Coal said it is clear coal is here to stay; that’s what the national experts say and what the EPA based its rule on. The country gets, and is expected to continue getting, more than 30 percent of its energy from coal, Stone-Manning said.

Montana’s coal industry can be kept internationally competitive through innovation even as the state reduces emissions and encourages efficiencies, she said.

Of course, some would rather argue that we as a nation ought to be eliminating coal as a source of energy. And some would rather argue that Montana should be fighting the emissions rule. Those arguments miss the point of this opportunity: to move past the rhetoric into meaningful action.

As Stone-Manning noted, “We have an energy economy here that we need to protect and shape for the future.”

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The DEQ’s 30-page analysis is an accessible, reader-friendly way to enter the discussion about how Montana should respond to the proposed carbon rules. In fact, the DEQ has even provided an online link to the analytical model it used so that readers can experiment with it themselves.

As Gov. Steve Bullock has noted, Montana is an energy-producing state. As such, Montana ought to be leading the industry – in terms of energy development, new technologies and practical plans.

Let’s get started.

Missoula meeting:

Montana Department of Environmental Quality staff will hold a meeting in Missoula on Oct. 2 from 6-8 p.m. to gather public feedback on the state’s analysis of the carbon pollution rules proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The meeting will be at the Best Western Grant Creek Inn, 5280 Grant Creek Road.

Read the DEQ’s white paper and download the analytical model used for the white paper at deq.mt.gov /otherpublicdocs/whitepaperpublicmeetings.mcpx.

EDITORIAL BOARD: Publisher Mark Heintzelman, Editor Sherry Devlin, Opinion Editor Tyler Christensen

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