Lawmaker: State’s carbon pollution plan hurts Montana

BILLINGS, Mont. — A Republican congressman from Montana said Monday that his state’s power generation and mining industries would suffer under a Washington state proposal to cut carbon pollution by eliminating imports of coal-fired power.

U.S. Rep. Steve Daines called on Washington Gov. Jay Inslee to reconsider an executive order the Democrat signed in April to reduce Washington’s greenhouse gas emissions. Inslee’s plan includes phasing out electricity generated from burning coal, although no timeline has been established.

The vast majority of Washington’s electricity comes from hydropower, with just over 13 percent coming from coal. But coal is responsible for almost 80 percent of utilities’ emissions of carbon dioxide — a gas that scientists say is helping drive climate change.

Most of Washington’s coal-generated electricity comes from power plants in Montana and Wyoming. By setting the goal of eliminating “coal by wire,” Inslee has put himself at odds with elected officials in the two states.

“Your policy would have serious consequences for Montana jobs, the financial integrity of financial institutions and the price of electricity for families and businesses across the region,” Daines wrote in a letter to Inslee. The first-term Republican lawmaker is running for U.S. Senate and met with coal industry representatives in Billings on Monday to tout his efforts on their behalf.

Inslee has made climate change one of his key issues. He issued the April order after a bipartisan panel of state legislators deadlocked on strategies to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Inslee said at the time that it was “the right time to act.” A spokesman for the governor said in response to Daines that Washington state faces economic risks of its own as climate change threatens to hurt some businesses.

“Coal has a major impact on the health of Washington state,” said David Postman, Inslee’s director of communications. “A growing number of industries, led today perhaps by the shellfish industry, are concerned about what climate change and ocean acidification will mean.”

Postman pointed out that market forces are also taking their toll on the coal industry. Demand for the fuel has fallen due to low prices of natural gas while power plant operators grapple with rising costs to comply with more stringent pollution laws.

Each of Washington’s three private electric utilities gets some power from Montana’s Colstrip power plant, which they also co-own.

Washington utility Puget Sound Energy Inc. has a 32 percent stake in Colstrip, a 2,100-megawatt plant operated by PPL Montana. Washington’s two other utilities, Avista and Pacificorp, have a combined stake in Colstrip of 18 percent, said Pete Simonich with PPL Montana.

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