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Montana carbon conversation reveals state’s ideological divide

Montana is in the midst of an important conversation about the future of energy and climate change, but the reaction from the public suggests a deep divide in the state over how to respond to proposed EPA carbon standards.

Last week, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality held a series of three public meetings in Billings, Colstrip, and Missoula to discuss plans to comply with the proposed EPA carbon rule. In the first two, the majority of attendees spoke out against the carbon regulations, especially in coal country’s Colstrip, but in Missoula the crowd struck a different tone.

As one might expect, Tracy Stone-Manning, the agency’s director, got a different earful in Missoula than what she received in Billings and Colstrip, the two other communities on the tour.

“In the other locations we heard more concern about the ability to meet this target,” Stone-Manning told Montana Public Radio, “and in Missoula we heard concerns about this target not being tough enough.”

A coal miner holding coal in his hands. (Shutterstock Image)

A coal miner holding coal in his hands. (Shutterstock Image)

DEQ’s meeting in Colstrip, in contrast, was attended by more than 200 workers in the coal industry, many of whom worked at the Colstrip plant. They gave the agency a chilly reception. One farmer in attendance was the only person to speak out favorably and suggested the standards need to be tougher.

Colstrip’s Mayor Rose Hanser expressed concern about the effect carbon regulations would have on her town.

“The public is being burnt on both ends,” she said. “I do not see this as a healthy business choice for Montana.”

Montana has the largest coal deposits in the United States, so it very well could have the largest stake in the outcome of the EPA’s proposed carbon standards. Colstrip’s residents and workers are worried jobs could be lost and the state’s vast energy reserves could become worthless.

At the Billings meeting, the crowd was a bit more balanced than in Colstrip, but citizens were still speaking out against the proposed carbon standards.

A citizen in attendance, Richland County Commissioner Duane Mitchell, says he’s concerned coal plants will shut down, and energy costs will rise.

“Economically — in my opinion — it’s not even feasible, nor is it the intelligent thing to do,” he said of the proposed law.

A few residents raised concerns about climate change, even suggesting that dealing with climate change would create jobs.

Would green jobs replace mining jobs? (Shutterstock Image)

Would green jobs replace mining jobs? (Shutterstock Image)

“We can do this in a manner that strengthens our economy,” Billings resident Ed Gulick told KULR 8 News. “It actually will be stronger, and we’re addressing global warming.”

But would so-called “green jobs” be enough to replace the jobs lost in the coal industry? Though there is a seen benefit to windmills, solar panels, and “green jobs,” there is always an unseen cost. The Obama Administration’s push for green jobs reportedly cost $11 million per job.

State officials say they want to reduce carbon emissions while keeping the coal industry alive. It’s a tricky balancing act, one that involves balancing the needs of workers in coal country with the desires of environmentalists in places like Missoula.

Montana, along with all other states, has until December 1 to submit comments to the EPA on its proposed carbon rule. The final rule will be released June 2015, with implementation expected to happen in 2017.

Citizens can also submit comments on the EPA’s proposal. More information can be found at this link.

President Obama’s Organizing for Action group recently urged its supporter to submit comments to counteract “Deniers and deep-pocketed polluters.” Supporters were directed to sign a petition with their email address and then asked to donate money.

The group says it will take the emails and “package them up for delivery in advance of the EPA’s deadline.”

Featured image: Shutterstock.com

Josh Kaib

Josh Kaib is the Assistant Editor of Watchdog Wire. Twitter: @joshkaib

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