Montana Gov. Steve Bullock is trying to get out ahead of the Environmental Protection Agency’s rule regarding power plant emissions and he is looking to IBEW for help.

The EPA’s Clean Power Plan targets coal-fired plants like Montana’s Lewis and Clark plant, pictured, and the Colstrip plant that employs more than 250 Local 1638 members.
Photo credit: Flicker user Tim Evans

The EPA issued a rule in October that requires states to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases from existing power plants. The final version of the rule, also known as the Clean Power Plan, would reduce national electricity sector emissions by an estimated 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. Each state has its own goal within this and for Montana, this means reducing emissions by 47 percent, the most of any state.

“No matter what one’s opinion is of the Clean Power Plan is, we can’t afford to ignore it,” Bullock told the Billings Gazette. “We have far too much at stake.”

In an effort to meet the goal without jeopardizing Montana’s power grid or anyone’s job, Bullock appointed a citizen advisory council to draft the rules for moving forward. And Colstrip, Mont., Local 1638 Business Manager Rex Rogers has been tapped to join.

“Having Rex on the advisory council ensures that the interests of Montana’s hard-working citizens won’t get lost in the shuffle of bureaucracy,” said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson. “It also makes sure that Montana will meet its goal in the smartest way possible without harming its energy resources.”

Rogers was also appointed by Eighth District Vice President Jerry Bellah last year to be the IBEW state labor contact for the CPP and related issues in Montana. Each state has a contact person who works with state and local governments as a stakeholder. The IBEW is the only international union to have such a person in every state to assist with crafting a plan for meeting CPP standards, said International Representative Anna Jerry.

The IBEW is also part of a working group established with the U.S. Department of Energy that does educational outreach to state contacts on topics including the CPP and carbon capture and storage, said Jerry.

The 27-member governor’s council is comprised of representatives from various sectors, including energy, labor, environmental protection, business and the Native American community. Rogers is one of three representatives from labor, the others being Montana AFL-CIO Executive Director Al Ekblad and Montana State Building and Construction Trades Council President John Roeber.

The council will make recommendations to the state Department of Environmental Quality and to Bullock, who must submit a plan to the EPA by Sept. 6, said the Billings Gazette.  States can request a two-year extension but must meet certain requirements, one of which is engaging stakeholders.

The Clean Power Plan has come under scrutiny and is facing a lawsuit which the IBEW has joined.

The lawsuit contends that the EPA does not have the legal authority to create such a policy, and that it threatens grid reliability while doing little to effectively address climate change. The IBEW joins 27 states, several utilities and two other labor unions on the legal action.

“We agree that climate change is a real threat, and one caused by human behavior,” said Stephenson, “but we can’t expect one sector alone to shoulder the burden of reducing emissions. We need everyone involved, including industries like agriculture and transportation.”

Focusing solely on coal-fired power plants also threatens grid reliability since renewable sources like wind and solar are not currently capable of replacing more consistent, base load energy like coal. In 2014, coal provided 39 percent of U.S. electricity generation, while renewables including wind and solar accounted for only 7 percent, said the U.S. Energy Information Administration.  

Rogers says Local 1638 has more than 250 members, all of whom work at the coal-fired Colstrip Power Plant. The EPA rules have created a great deal of uncertainty.

In addition to the EPA rule, neighboring states are reevaluating their use of Montana’s coal for their energy consumption. Two utility companies in Washington, which also own shares of the Colstrip Power Plant, are considering substantially reducing the plant’s capacity. Add that to below-industry standard wages, said Rogers, and it’s not hard to see why Colstrip residents are feeling anxious.

“The problem is, there are no simple answers. It takes time,” Rogers said. “We need to come up with a plan that works for Montana.”