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Singing the blues about climate change rules

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Singing the blues about climate change rules

May 18, 2024 | 6:56 am ET
By Mary Catherine Dunphy
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Singing the blues about climate change rules
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Colstrip Power Plant (Photo by Darrell Ehrlick of the Daily Montanan).

First, let’s begin with a brief history lesson. Back in 1970 when Republicans and Democrats agreed clean air and water were vitally important to the health and well-being of U.S. citizens, President Richard Nixon, a Republican, established the Environmental Protection Agency, tasked with protecting public health from harmful, toxic pollutants.  

Flash forward 54 years to the present: On May 1, at a U.S. House Appropriations Subcommittee and then on May 2, at a U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee hearing regarding the new EPA Mercury Air Toxics Standards (MATS) rules about toxic emissions, two of Montanans’ Congressional delegation – Congressman Ryan Zinke and Sen. Jon Tester — did a pretty good job of beating up on EPA Administrator, Michael Regan with a harsh line of questioning – just for doing his job – which is protecting people from toxic air and water pollution, and its adverse health effects. Later, Sen. Steve Daines and Congressman Matt Rosendale also joined Zinke and Tester, and released press statements opposing the updated EPA MATS rules.  

Is it possible that each member of Montana’s Congressional delegation (3 Republicans and 1 Democrat) doesn’t know there is no safe level for humans of arsenic and lead which are emitted in abundance (in the tons) from the Colstrip power plant?  These deadly poisons cause profound, often irreversible, health impacts from chronic exposure. There are also other pollutants emitted – chromium, manganese, nickel, selenium and none of these are good for human lungs to breathe. And, let’s not forget the greenhouse gases, emitted in the tons, and also not good for planetary health.     

Not one of Montana’s Congressional delegation has displayed knowledge of the Clean Air Act, and the political courage needed to protect their Montana constituents’ health. They all ought to be ashamed of themselves.  Instead, they sounded like shills or lobbyists for one of the utility companies that owns Colstrip – NorthWestern Energy.  

Later, in the press NorthWestern CEO Brian Bird joined the act, complaining about the new EPA rules and how expensive it would be to install the equipment needed to clean up the air pollutants emitted at Colstrip.  Gosh, it’s so unpleasant to read about a high-salaried utility CEO whining — especially the CEO of a for-profit, investor-owned utility who just last year, thanks to a stupendously large gift from the Republican-controlled 2023 Montana legislature, got a huge tax cut—and got to pay about $36 million less on its 2023 property tax bill, a 20% decrease from 2022. And, let’s not forget that by law NWE also gets a guaranteed return on equity profit.

The EPA did not spring the new rules to clean up toxic emissions from Colstrip on NWE and the other Colstrip owners out of the blue.  These rules, as part of the Clean Air Act of 1970, amended in 1977 and 1990, are reviewed and updated every eight years as technology to protect public health evolves.  There has been plenty of warning.  In fact, most utilities have already complied and are still managing to generate cleaner, affordable electricity, leaving Colstrip with the notorious honor of having the highest emission rates of toxic air pollution in the nation as measured through filterable particulate emissions.    

The reality is NorthWestern Energy, in order to keep their profits rolling in — has bet big on the wrong horse at Colstrip – the dirty, more expensive way to generate electricity instead of cleaner, healthier and cheaper ways for consumers that renewables with battery backup provide.  Instead, NWE is now is singing the blues that its profits will be adversely impacted because it must install equipment that will clean the air and protect the lungs and health of Montana ratepayers — while also threatening Montana’s captive ratepayers that electricity will be even more expensive than the 28% increase NWE gave Montana ratepayers last year — all with the blessing of the five Republican members of Montana’s Public Service Commission.    

It’s time for NorthWestern Energy to wake up — and for Montana’s Congressional Delegation, and the PSC to also wake up — and realize that many Montanans want clean air and water in order to protect their health, their children’s health and the planet’s health, as well as clean, affordable electricity.  Don’t keep betting on old, dirty, expensive technology to generate the affordable electricity Montanans want and need.   

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