Daines, Gianforte tour Montana coal mine, criticize federal policies

Daines and Gianforte in Colstrip
Rosebud Mine
Rosebud Mine
Daines and Gianforte in Colstrip
Rosebud Mine
Posted at 6:39 PM, May 29, 2024

COLSTRIP — Sen. Steve Daines and Gov. Greg Gianforte traveled to Colstrip Tuesday, where they toured a coal mine and heard from workers and administrators concerned about Biden administration policies.

“This Colstrip operation is keeping the lights on in Montana, and, in fact, the whole Northwest,” Gianforte said. “We need reliable power to power our economy, and there just really isn’t an alternative.”

The two leaders took a tour of the Rosebud Mine, a 25,000-acre site that produced almost 7 million tons of coal in 2022. They visited a coal deposit, got a look at the multimillion-pound dragline excavators used in mining and saw areas that operator Westmoreland Mining has restored after extracting coal.

Daines and Gianforte in Colstrip
Gov. Greg Gianforte and Sen. Steve Daines stand in the bucket of a dragline excavator — a multimillion-pound machine used at the Rosebud coal mine in Colstrip.

Company leaders said the Rosebud Mine is ideal because of the quality of the coal seam and its accessibility.

“It’s just right,” said Westmoreland CEO Martin Purvis. “This is the Goldilocks of coal mines.”

When the coal is processed, it’s carried on a four-mile conveyor belt directly to the Colstrip power plant’s Units 3 and 4.

Rosebud Mine
The Rosebud coal mine in Colstrip produced almost 7 million tons of coal in 2022.

After their tour of the mine, Daines and Gianforte held a roundtable discussion with mine and utility administrators and community leaders. Their focus was on what they describe as a series of federal policies that threaten Colstrip’s viability.

“EPA’s new rules are a one-two punch combination that’s really just intended to knock Colstrip out permanently and force the plant to prematurely retire,” said Dale Lebsack, chief fossil officer for Talen Energy, which operates the Colstrip power plant.

The most recent policies they’re concerned about include the EPA’s proposed Mercury and Air Toxic Standards, or MATS, regulations, as well as a proposal to end to new coal leases on public lands in southeastern Montana and Wyoming.

Leaders said the MATS changes would require the Colstrip plant, specifically, to make extensive investments to comply with tighter emission standards.

“You always have cycles in pricing in energy – you have ups and downs, whether you're oil, natural gas or coal,” said Daines. “The problem we have is that the Biden administration is trying to kill this industry, to end it permanently.”

Purvis argued there hasn’t been a solid plan from the federal government for replacing the baseload energy that comes from fuels like coal. He compared Colstrip to military equipment that remains in use while the transition to newer systems is going on.

“You don’t want gaps in national security – and I’ll tell you what, you don’t want gaps in national energy for sure, as well,” he said.

NorthWestern Energy president and CEO Brian Bird said his company is counting on the reliability of power from sources like Colstrip. The utility announced last year that it was expanding its ownership interest in the Colstrip plant, starting in January 2026.