MISSOULA — President Barack Obama on Tuesday outlined his plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prepare the nation for a future of stronger weather stirred by warming temperatures.
In Montana, reactions to the president’s speech were mixed. The state’s leading scientist on climate change lauded the news, as did environmental groups that have long awaited action from Congress.
PPL Montana was pleased with portions of Obama’s address as they relate to hydroelectric generation. But the company warned that new carbon emission standards will present challenges for its coal-fired plant at Colstrip.
“These new rules that continue to come at us present challenges,” said PPL spokesman David Hoffman. “But we’re pleased with the positive comments the president made about hydroelectric.”
In his speech, Obama said 40 percent of America’s carbon pollution comes from power plants. Federal regulations don’t currently limit the amount of carbon pollution produced by plants, the president said.
Obama called on the Environmental Protection Agency to develop pollution standards for new and existing plants and to do so in a transparent way. The new regulations would allow flexibility to different states with different needs.
“The major CO2 emissions in our country are from coal-fired power plants — the oldest and least efficient plants of all,” said Steve Running, a regents professor at the University of Montana and a recognized expert in global ecosystem monitoring. “That’s the biggest step forward here.”
Running, who was on a United Nations climate change panel that shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, had anticipated the president’s speech for days.
Running, who has made a career studying climate change, said the overwhelming judgment of science long ago put the “global warming” debate to rest.
The president echoed those words during his speech. Obama noted that the 12 warmest years in recorded history have all come in the last 15 years. Temperatures in some areas of the ocean reached record highs last year, and ice in the Arctic shrank to its smallest size on record.
“To have the president stand up and draw attention to the topic is significant,” Running said. “We’ve been waiting for him to step up and really take this topic on publicly.”
Obama bypassed Congress in taking executive action on climate change. Anne Hedges, a lobbyist and program director for the Montana Environmental Information Center, hailed the move, saying Congress was incapable of acting on the subject.
“We needed leadership on climate change,” Hedges said. “We want to see those words put into action. If those words are put into action, today was a bad day for coal and a good day for our future.”
Hedges said the president’s plan to limit CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants and place a greater emphasis on renewable energy represent a bold step forward.
Obama’s plan calls for 10 gigawatts of wind and solar projects to be placed on public lands by 2020. He said a clean-energy economy and a small carbon footprint can be an engine for growth for decades to come.
“You can’t address climate change without changing the energy system,” Hedges said. “Our whole economy will benefit. It won’t be the economic disaster some are arguing.”
The Montana Coal Council wasn’t ready to weigh in on Obama’s plans, but PPL Montana, which runs the state’s largest industrial facility at Colstrip, said the impacts of the president’s action will be mixed.
New CO2 regulations could bring additional expenses to Colstrip, he said. At the same time, the president’s plans to boost renewable energy held good news for the 11 hydropower stations PPL operates across Montana.
“Placing hydro on even footing with wind and solar is refreshing and positive,” Hoffman said. “Hydro is where Montana has started to go, and the recognition that hydro upgrades are renewable is a big step. It’s a true renewable resource.”