The state Public Service Commission is urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to back off on proposed greenhouse-gas rules for new coal-fired power plants — almost one year after the comment period on the rule closed.
In a letter to the EPA signed last week by its five Republican commissioners, the PSC said the proposed emission rules would make it “impracticable” to build new coal-fired power plants in America.
Commissioner Bob Lake, R-Hamilton, said Tuesday the PSC hopes the EPA will take no action on the rules, because they could make fossil-fuel power plants too expensive.
“We hope we have enough power to bring some of these industries back into the state with competitive prices,” he said. “We have a large inventory of coal and natural gas.”
The PSC regulates electric utilities in the state.
Montana environmental and public-health health groups said this week the PSC letter is misguided, because the new rules will force innovation to reduce emissions that harm public health and cause climate change.
“Without this rule, we will be mired in the dirty ways of the past,” said Kim Davitt, initiatives manager for the American Lung Association in Montana.
The EPA’s proposed rules, released in March 2012, set national limits for greenhouse-gas emissions from new gas- and coal-fired plants.
The public-comment period on the rules closed last June, but the rules have yet to be made final.
EPA spokeswoman Alisha Johnson said Tuesday the agency is still working on the rules and has no timetable for their completion.
When asked whether a letter submitted 10 months after the deadline for public comment would be considered, Johnson said EPA received many similar views within the deadline.
Commissioner Travis Kavulla, R-Great Falls, said comment is still relevant because the U.S. Senate is considering President Barack Obama’s nominee for the new director of EPA, Gina McCarthy, and senators are just now looking at the greenhouse-gas issue.
“It’s just not being treated any more that it’s a foregone conclusion that (the rules) are going to happen,” he said Tuesday. “Our view is that the proposed rule excludes coal entirely from the picture. … I just think we’d prefer they start over, if (the rule) is necessary at all.”
The PSC letter mentions that Montana has substantial coal reserves, and says building new coal-fired power plants will foster new clean-coal technology.
Yet Anne Hedges, program director for the Montana Environmental Information Center in Helena, said it’s just the opposite: The rule will drive more innovation, forcing coal-burning to become cleaner with lower carbon emissions.
“What coal needs is innovation, and the only way that’s going to happen is a rule like this,” she said. “There haven’t been any new coal plants built across the country because coal is not economic today.
“(The PSC) is acting like the EPA is the bogeyman here, but in fact it’s the natural gas industry that is taking (coal) out.”
Davitt of the Lung Association also challenged the PSC’s suggestion that coal-fired power is safe and affordable, saying the cost of its pollution is not included in power bills.
“(We’re) dismayed and frustrated by the PSC opposition to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to establish standards for power-plant carbon pollution,” she said.