U.S. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., helped Rep. Denny Rehberg campaign Monday, arguing that pollution rules on coal power plants would be softer with Rehberg in the Senate.

Inhofe, a ranking member on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said he’s campaigning in two races that could help Republicans control both the Senate and environmental issues.

“We’re real close to a presidential election win and close to an election that will elect Denny Rehberg and give us a majority,” Inhofe said.

Citing the need for Republican control of environmental issues, Inhofe specifically pointed to his failed attempt earlier this year to block the Environmental Protection Agency from clamping down on mercury pollution and other toxins from coal plants.

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, or MACT, was labeled a jobs killer by Inhofe and coal industry lobbyists, who said power plants couldn’t ratchet down on airborne mercury without raising rates and closing some coal power plants.

Reducing airborne mercury pollution and other toxic emissions would prevent 130,000 cases of childhood asthma and prevent more than 10,000 premature deaths, according to the EPA.

The senator from Oklahoma had hoped to use the Congressional Review Act to block the mercury crackdown. The CRA is a sometimes-tried, but rarely successful tool for canceling agency regulations. Inhofe lost the vote 46 to 53, as five Republicans sided with Democrats.

Rehberg could have been a deciding vote to block the mercury crackdown, according to Inhofe, who faulted Tester and two other coal state Democrats voting the other way.

“Now is not the time to be costing Montana, or America, jobs,” Rehberg said. “Now is the time to start a comprehensive energy policy, and a big part of that policy is fossil fuels.”

The two used the J.E. Corette Power Plant in Billings as their backdrop. Three years from now, PPL plans to close the plant rather than add some $30 million in pollution controls. The company announced its decision in September during Republican’s “Stop the war on coal” week in Washington.

The Rehberg-Inhofe press event attracted pro-Tester protesters, who lined the road outside the event and catcalled Rehberg and Inhofe throughout. It was a cold, wet Monday afternoon, and Rehberg’s event took place in a business garage with the doors open so that Corette’s smoke stack was clearly visible to TV cameras. Large trucks sporting Rehberg campaign signs kept the hecklers mostly from view, but they could be heard.

One woman cried out “Thank God for the EPA.”

One protester, sporting a “Firefighters for Tester” T-shirt, said Rehberg and Inhofe were trying to wrongly pin the Corette plant’s closure three years from now on Tester.

“The facts are, the regulations have been in place since the 1990s and coal plants were excluded. They had all this time to clean things up,” said Darrell Johnson, of the Greater Yellowstone Labor Council.

PPL reported $1.5 billion in profit last year, protesters said. The money needed to upgrade Corette shouldn’t have been a problem.

Inhofe now heads to Missouri to campaign for Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin, who was strongly challenging Democrat U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill before his comments about "legitimate rape" set him back.



Politics and agriculture reporter for The Billings Gazette.