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Rural sector taking to reducing harmful emissions

Mark Moran
14 Jun 2024

While only 18 percent of Americans live in rural areas, they produce more than a third of the nation's emissions.

Nearly half of Montana's population is rural, and a new program from climate scientists is working to address rural America's polluting emissions. The Colstrip coal plant in southeast Montana's Rosebud County produces nearly 11 million metric tons of CO2 every year and is a perfect example of the type of facility the Rural Climate Partnership is focusing on.

Maria Doerr, program officer for the partnership, wrote a report on the disproportionate effects of rural America's emissions and said the group provides rural communities with the tools they need to take on climate-choking emissions in their own backyard, while also bolstering their local economies.

"That is why we need rural communities to be the leaders of change for themselves," Doerr contended. "Because solutions will not work if they come from out of state or from the coastal cities. Solutions must be coming from rural communities, and when they do, they can both address climate issues and reduce emissions."

Montana ranks sixth nationally in the amount of CO2 emissions, according to the trade group Solar Energy Insights.

Despite its historically heavy reliance on coal production, climate scientists point to bright spots. The U.S. Energy Information Administration ranked Montana in the top 10 states for the largest share of electricity generated from renewables last year, and hydropower and wind accounted for about half of its in-state electricity generation.

Doerr argued it is important for rural areas to be part of renewable energy development.

"I'm hopeful about opportunities to help those rural communities lead for themselves to create changes," Doerr outlined. "Bringing in more clean-energy projects that create local jobs, that increase grid resiliency and reduce energy costs."

In addition to reducing harmful emissions, Doerr added the renewable energy sector can also create new job opportunities benefiting the local economy and landowners, who can lease their property for solar and wind development.

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