HELENA – Montana Gov. Steve Bullock on Tuesday suspended the work of a panel appointed to address new federal carbon dioxide emissions rules after the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily blocked the key component of President Barack Obama's climate change plan.
Montana is one of 27 states suing to halt implementation of Obama's Clean Power Plan. The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday to block enforcement of the plan while the litigation is pending.
Under the federal plan, Montana faced the steepest cuts to its emissions rates of any state – 47 percent compared to 2012 – to meet the target set by the Environmental Protection Agency. Nationwide, the Clean Power Plan aims to cut emissions by 32 percent by 2030.
The Democratic governor has previously said the Montana cuts were unfair, but the state had to move ahead with planning for them. In November, he appointed an advisory council to begin shaping a plan and to justify extending to 2018 the deadline for submitting that plan.
On Tuesday, Bullock said he was putting the advisory council's work on hold.
"What we cannot put on hold, however, is the need to address climate change and embrace Montana's energy future, and I am committed to ensuring we do so on our own terms," he said in a statement.
Attorney General Tim Fox, who made the decision to join the multi-state lawsuit, called the Supreme Court's decision a victory and the first step toward getting the new regulations nullified.
"Today's ruling will prevent Montana families, energy workers, businesses and public agencies from bearing the burden of regulations that we believe will be overturned ultimately," he said.
The Supreme Court's freeze on the Clean Power Plan will very likely last through the November elections, in which Bullock and Fox are both seeking second terms. That may ease the pressure of what has already become a politicized issue.
Bullock's Republican opponent, Greg Gianforte, had made his opposition to the federal regulations part of his campaign. Other opponents seized on a University of Montana study funded by NorthWestern Energy to blast the federal plan.
The study by the university's Bureau of Business and Economic Research analyzed the economic effects of shutting down all four units of the Colstrip power plant – the second-largest coal-fired plant in the West – to comply with the Clean Power Plan. The study found a shutdown would have serious repercussions for the town of Colstrip and for the state's economy.
Researchers acknowledged a complete shutdown was only one possible scenario.
Regardless of the federal rules, the future of Colstrip's two oldest units is already threatened. Pending legislation in Washington state written by the Colstrip co-owner Puget Sound Energy could lead to their shutdown.