By Nate Hegyi
March 3, 2019 - As the demand for coal continues to plummet in the United States, state legislatures in the Mountain West are coming up with creative ways to either save the industry or transition away from it.
In Montana, Republicans are proposing legislation that would allow a local utility to take over a failing coal-fired power plant in the town of Colstrip.
"There’s many people that work at Colstrip asked me to introduce a bill to save their jobs,” state Rep. Rodney Garcia told Montana Public Radio in January.
Meanwhile, in Wyoming, legislators want companies to try to sell their coal-fired power plants instead of shutting them down.
“I wanted something that could address the importance of the jobs associated with those plants in Wyoming’s communities,” state Rep. Dan Dockstader told the Casper Star-Tribune.
Despite efforts by the Trump administration to ease regulations on the coal industry, domestic production has suffered suffered due to the abundance of cheaper natural gas and other renewables.
Mark Haggerty, an energy analyst with the independent research group Headwaters Economics, said these states depend on revenues from coal, which is why they are trying to save the industry. Around 12 percent of Wyoming’s budget, for example, comes from tax and fee revenues from coal.
“We’ve used a lot of the revenue to pay for our annual government budgets over the years,” he said. “So we’re in a position where we literally cannot afford, in many cases, for those revenues to go away.”
But Colorado is taking a different approach . The state is less dependent on revenue from coal than Montana and Wyoming. But individual communities are still impacted by the market. Legislators there are trying to establish funding to help communities transition away from coal. The money would go to towards retraining workers.
“You can’t ignore economic reality, you can’t ignore basic math,” state Rep. Chris Hansen, a Democrat, told the Colorado Sun. “We can prepare Colorado for these closures and be ready to help the people who are going to be impacted.