Cutting Carbon in Colstrip

EPA LogoThe Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is coming to town.  On September 30, from 6-8Pm at the high school auditorium, they want to have a discussion with you and me.

The EPA recently proposed new standards on carbon pollution and Montana is preparing to comply.  The big question for Colstrip is, “Can our 2,000 megawatt (MW) producing coal fired power plant survive the new standards?”  Although there is no indication yet as to the impact the rules will have on the Colstrip plant, this kind of meeting can make people nervous.

According to the official invite from the DEQ, “on June 2, 2014, the EPA released a draft rule to raise standards for carbon pollution from energy producing facilities.  States have until December 1, 2014 to weigh the draft proposal before submitting comments to the EPA.”

Gov. Bullock directed the DEQ to brainstorm ideas on how to meet the EPA requirements “while protecting the energy jobs Montana currently possesses“.  The DEQ committee drafted a 30 page, downloadable document titled “Options for Montana’s Energy Future“, also referred to as “pathways to compliance”.  This document will be the focus of the discussion.

You may have the same initial reaction as I did to the idea of a public meeting; what’s the point?  Is the DEQ really going to listen to the people who will be most impacted by any new environmental standards?  Colstrip is a power town; our bread and butter is made by burning coal to produce electricity from which thousands of people benefit.  If they do care, can they really stop EPA regulations from impacting the Montana economy?

The reality is: maybe or maybe not.  They may be able to hold back any destructive federal regulations and they may just have to make the best of new regulations.  Like any project anyone ever works on, there are real and serious limitations and hurdles that must be mitigated.  If we just threw up our hands when obstacle’s stood in our way or diverted our paths when limits were imposed we would probably all still be sucking a bottle, lying in an oversized crib somewhere.

Here’s what you cannot do.  You cannot make the decision for the DEQ.  These people have been appointed and/or hired to do a job that is not always fun.  They have to come to impacted cities and towns and get an ear full of criticism (positive or negative) and much of it may not even apply to the scenario at hand.

Here’s what you can do.  You can read (or at least skim) through the 30 page document and attend the meeting ready to listen and then ask questions based on an understanding of the current issue.  I can tell you that thoughtful questions, ideas and objections sway the minds of decision makers.  When I was on the City Council, it was always the thoughtful arguments that grabbed my attention and conviction.

We all should attend this meeting if possible; regardless of your opinions about the politics behind it all.  Any new EPA regulation has the potential to impact Colstrip; whether good or bad.  Come prepared with honest and genuine questions.  Ask technical questions if you understand the information in the document, ask general questions if you do not.  Heck, even ask the one on many minds, “Why are you required to follow a rule even if it turns out that Montanans disagree with it?”  What can the EPA do to Montana if we said, “Thank you for your consideration, but we’ll take it from here.”

Political processes are often long and boring, but that are necessary and foundational to the success of our state and country.  Don’t sit back on this one.  Take two hours out of your busy day and engage an important matter.  Even if you just come to listen it’s better than ignoring it.  Environmental regulation is a reality (and at its foundation a very good and needed thing!).  Let’s come together and let the decision makers know what we think.  Where ever you stand, listen up and speak up.

Meeting Time and Location:

Tuesday, September 30, 6-8 PM Colstrip High School Auditorium


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