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Those who view the EPA as a planet-saving benevolent dictator have come to welcome their heavy hand bearing down on our state. In denial of the economic hardships to come, they favor capitulation to a federal agency that apparently knows more about Montana than we who live here.

Former PSC Chairman Greg Jergeson recently opined that the EPA’s new regulations on power plant CO2 emissions probably won’t hit Montana’s energy consumers very hard, and that state policymakers would do best to partner with, rather than oppose, these federal edicts. Jergeson proposes rubber stamping Washington’s power-grab by developing our own EPA-approved plan, and calling it “a Montana solution.”

While I appreciate Mr. Jergeson’s past service, his analysis of the Clean Power Plan couldn’t be more inaccurate. Every credible study confirms that this latest federal decree will dramatically increase the monthly power bills of both residential ratepayers and the businesses and industries that employ them. Maybe Greg can live with that. Most Montanans cannot.

Jergeson asserts that coal (which is responsible for 64.6 percent of Montana’s total electricity generation), is comparatively expensive, basing his argument on Colstrip Unit 4. Electricity from CU4 is indeed some of NorthWestern Energy’s most expensive, but not because coal generation is inherently costly. CU4’s high cost is an anomaly, created by a Jergeson-chaired PSC that approved an absurdly high acquisition price, which was promptly passed on to ratepayers.

Absent this anomaly, coal-generated electricity is still among the cheapest, most reliable sources of energy available to Montana ratepayers — and would continue to be, but for the extreme regulatory burden, administratively inflicted by an EPA that apparently believes burning the U. S. Constitution is an acceptable CO2 emission.

By contrast, many renewable resources wouldn’t be economically viable, were it not for the mountain of government subsidies they receive. Then too, the energy they produce is less reliable, requiring constant back-up by coal and natural gas plants to cover the shortfalls when nature isn’t cooperating. These subsidies – paid for in our taxes – create a convoluted economic picture that doesn’t reflect true cost, and makes “green energy” appear cheaper than it actually is. “Cheap” subsidized energy is an optical illusion, a contradiction in terms.

How heavy a dose of the subsidy narcotic do renewables need to remain competitive?

Solar is currently supported by a 30 percent investment tax credit, and for the last two decades, wind energy has been bolstered by a production tax credit of $0.023 per kilowatt hour, covering up to one-third of their generation costs.

Add to this the advantage of major state tax breaks and renewable (RPS) mandates, and you begin to realize just how much the scales are weighted against the consumer, who would be far better served by an even playing field and a truly competitive energy marketplace. Indeed, if politicians would quit rigging the game, get out of the way, and allow economic incentives to freely operate, innovators and developers of renewables would also greatly benefit in the long run. Freedom energizes. Interventionism paralyzes. Take government out of the picture, and we consumers will demand what we want and pay what we are willing to pay.

Whether CO2 emissions are, in net effect, a climatic calamity or an earth-greening benefit is an unsettled question. That scientific debate is just warming up (even while the earth, in recent years, has not.) Regardless of your views on that subject, we can all agree that the truecost of CO2 reduction — through forced renewables and the taxing and banning of fossil fuels – must be accurately represented in the public policy discussion.

Unfortunately, that picture is habitually shrouded by bad economics and partisan politics. Misleading commentaries like Jergeson’s, assuring consumers that EPA’s heavy hammer really won’t hurt too badly nor cost too much are cruel contrivances, told to us by people who believe the heat of politics is more important than the light of truth.

Roger Koopman is District 3 Public Service Commissioner from Bozeman. He previously served two terms in the Montana House of Representatives.