Colstrip’s Fate Looms Large in Congressional Meetings

Tester, Zinke question EPA administrator over new pollution standards

By Amanda Eggert, Montana Free Press

Particulars of the emissions controls installed on Montana’s largest power plant found their way into a pair of congressional hearings last week as Montana delegates grappled with what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s new Mercury and Air Toxics Standards rule means for the future of Montana’s Colstrip coal plant.

During a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on May 1 to discuss the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s budget, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat, called Colstrip “the only power plant [the MATS rule] is really affecting.” 

“It will take hundreds of millions of dollars to meet the standard and this is a power plant with a public depreciation date of 2042,” Tester said to EPA Administrator Michael Regan. “You and I both know that there’s no way they’ll make hundreds of millions of dollars of investment in a power plant that has that depreciation date.”

Tester pressed the administrator for details on “additional flexibilities” that might extend a lifeline to the plant. ”I believe we can get there,” Regan ultimately said. “I’d love for our staff to talk.”

The prior day, U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke, the Republican who represents Montana’s western district, suggested that the new rule will result in costly increases to Montana utility customers.

In a House Appropriations subcommittee meeting, Zinke asked if Regan was aware that the MATS rule “targets Colstrip.”

Regan responded that he was aware that 93% of the nation’s coal plants will be compliant with the rule.

“The coal facility that you referenced is the highest emitter in the country,” Regan said, adding later in the tense exchange that the Colstrip plant has been “cheating the system” to the detriment of children’s health.

Zinke suggested the new rule would require Montana consumers to pay another $1,000 per year for electricity — a figure that Regan disputed and that Zinke’s staff later sourced to NorthWestern Energy.

The new MATS rule was incorporated in a suite of new regulations the EPA adopted on April 25 to clamp down on pollution generated by power plants. In addition to tightening regulations for mercury and other heavy metals that become airborne when coal is burned to generate electricity, the EPA’s new rules require coal plants to reduce carbon dioxide emissions 90% by 2039.

U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale, Zinke’s counterpart in Montana’s eastern district, has also been critical of the MATS rule, as has U.S. Sen. Steve Daines

This story originally appeared in the Montana Free Press, which can be found online at montanafreepress.org.