EPA: Billings Now Meets Federal Air Pollution Standards
The U-S Environmental Protection Agency redesignated Billings as in compliance with federal air pollution standards.
Governor Steve Bullock says this is the first time EPA has reversed a non-attainment decision.
The EPA’s nonattainment designation was handed down in 2013. Federal officials pointed to the closure of the coal-fired Corette Power Plant as improving the air quality. But state officials disagree that’s the reason for the re-designation.
“This is really not about Corette,” says Tom Livers, Montana Department of Environmental Quality director.
“The data that we have to build the case for attainment over the period from 2013 to 2015 most of that time period included Corette up and running without some of the voluntary controls that they agreed to.”
Livers and Governor Steve Bullock say the EPA based its earlier decision on flawed data.
Bullock adds the designation hurt existing businesses because they could have been forced to install pollution controls.
“And it also made it less attractive for new businesses looking to locate in this area,” says Bullock. “The mandates associated with it were rigid. They were inflexible and they added unnecessary burdens and additional permitting requirements.”
Had the designation remained, the federal Clean Air Act could have allowed federal highway dollars to be withheld from the state.
Industry representatives from ExxonMobil, PPL Montana and CHS were at the press conference at the Billings Chamber of Commerce. All said they could not comment publically.
Gary Forrester handles government affairs for MDU Resources. The former state legislator from Billings says the company doesn’t have any industrial facilities in the community. Still, he applauds the news.
“So we’re happy to see the EPA and the DEQ come together, come up with a plan that will work and allow industry in the Yellowstone Valley to expand,” Forrester says.
Billings was one of 30 communities across the country designated as an area that did not meet the new sulfur dioxide standards and categorized as a “non-attainment” by the EPA. There are another 15 Montana communities on the list.
The Bullock administration says will now work to get a designation change for the remaining Montana cities.