Montana Politics

PSC Panders on Phones, Punts on the Future

While I was on vacation, I noticed the Missoulian taking the time to congratulate the PSC on its enlightened foresight when it comes to protecting Montana’s 406 area code.  Said the Missoulian:

There is, after all, still plenty of time to iron out any kinks in the new number-assigning system. Kudos to the members of the PSC, past and present, for not waiting until the last moment to ensure that the 406 area code remains available to all Montanans.

Were this a real threat that the PSC protected us from, I’d join the Missoulian in their praise. Of course we’d all like to keep our 406 area codes, as they do convey some sense of identity to Montanans.

But the 406 crisis was largely manufactured by the PSC in an attempt to get some good press for themselves. Instead of yet another story about their bickering and infighting, they managed to generate a feel good press release about an issue that simply wasn’t critical. Even the Gazette’s own reporting on the PSC showed that:

“We were a bit surprised (by the FCC order),” said Commissioner Travis Kavulla, R-Great Falls. “Our staff had been told that we would have to wait until nearer to the (area code) exhaustion date.”

Commission Chair Bill Gallagher, R-Helena, said the FCC actually chastised Montana for asking for the extension too early.

Unfortunately, the PSC is far less concerned about real crises that face the future of Montana.  Instead of recognizing the critical need to diversify our state’s energy supply sources, for the sake of security and the environment, they’re walking back efforts to increase the use of renewables here in Montana. The Bozeman Chronicle’s Laura Lundquist reports:

On Monday the Public Service Commission will hear public comment on a proposal to reduce the amount of power a renewable energy project can produce while receiving a standard-rate contract from NorthWestern Energy.

If approved, it may be the nail in the coffin for some hydropower projects that Bozeman-based Hydrodynamics Inc. proposed in 2009 and for more projects around the state.

The current PSC is far more interested in protecting the interests of Northwestern Energy and ideological commitment to fossil fuels than they are to sensibly blending renewables into Montana’s energy portfolio.  Getting good press for self-congratulatory press releases about protecting the (406) might be good for their electoral futures, but failing to encourage the sensible development of renewables is bad for all of ours.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

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Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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