‘War on coal’ hurts Montana

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It’s an outrage that the federal government’s Environmental Protection Agency is effectively killing jobs and tax revenues here in Montana and across the country.

PPL Montana announced last week that it will mothball its coal-fired Corette power plant in Billings in 2015 because it will not be cost effective to meet new EPA emission control regulations that would require a $38 million investment at the plant. As a result, 35 full-time employees stand to lose their jobs, and there will surely be an adverse ripple effect on the economy.

Make no mistake, the EPA is waging a “war on coal,” and we regard it as a war on Montana, a state with rich coal resources that have potential to become an important economic engine and revenue source for schools similar to the way Wyoming has benefited from its coal resources.

Yet, the EPA marches on with impacts that are even worse in other parts of the country. Last week, for instance, there was news that a company is cutting 1,200 jobs with the closure of eight mines in Virginia, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

And the company’s chief executive didn’t mince words in saying that it is largely because of a “regulatory environment that’s aggressively aimed at constraining the use of coal.”

The worst part of it all is the immense overall costs of complying with EPA regulations for questionable emission control benefits.

The chairman of the Montana Public Service Commission pointed out that the regulations will raise the cost of power — affecting the poorest most — “all for an unnoticeable effect in emission reductions.”

Travis Kavulla went on to point out that in just one month this  summer, two large wildfires in southeast Montana produced 25 times the particulate pollution that the Corette plant produces in an entire year. It should also be noted that Corette and other coal-fired plants in the United States are already the cleanest in a world filled with pollution-belching coal plants.

It is cost-benefit craziness, with more to the cost ledger than lost jobs and higher energy prices. The Corette plant paid about $1.7 million in 2011 property taxes.

Why is the federal government strangling an industry, jobs and local government revenue at a time when the country is staggering economically? It says a lot about the priorities of Washington, D.C., and its open hostility to Montana, a state that should have vast potential with its abundant coal resources.

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