Energy Environment Montana Politics

Bad Energy in the Legislature: An Update

The guest column wasn’t from an elitist lefty in Missoula. It was from ranchers in Birney and Emigrant.

It’s about alternative energy, and it talks about ranchers’ and farmers’ need for dependable, affordable power. They’re asking for policy changes from the Montana legislature. Their requests are falling on deaf ears.

You’d think Republican lawmakers would listen to ranchers and farmers – the biggest economic force in the state. But no, Montana GOP Senators have tabled two bills in committee expanding “net metering” (and one of the bills was sponsored by a Sanders County Republican).

The column also answers Northwestern Energy’s and legislators’ concerns on who pays for infrastructure upgrades and maintenance:

All this will require from utilities is implementing simple accounting procedures. This common-sense solution will drastically increase the feasibility of small-scale renewable energy installations for Montana’s rural residents, farmers and ranchers.

UPDATE: The Montana House committee that deals with energy issues tabled two bills on net metering this week, as did the Senate last week.  It looks like all net metering bills are dead.

In other energy news, low oil prices are taking their toll on North Dakota and Montana communities in the Bakken oil fields.  There’s no such thing as sustainable oil production (or coal production, for that matter).  It’s a boom or bust industry.  From the AP story:

The fracking rush has seen more than 11,000 wells drilled, and analysts predict a total of 50,000 to 60,000 before all the oil is gone.

But communities scrambling to meet infrastructure and safety needs in their boomtowns are now worried they won’t have the revenue to fund these improvements as oil prices hover around $50 a barrel.  And instead of moving in a sustainable direction, Montana Legislators are embracing the old boom-or-bust cycle by sponsoring bills that reduce regulations on fossil fuel extraction and accelerate mining, drilling and fossil fuel delivery systems, including:

SB 160 – Reducing Water Quality Protections (Sponsored by Sen. Duane Ankney, R-Colstrip)

HJ 11 – Support Construction of Keystone XL Pipeline (Sponsored by Rep. Mike Lang, R-Malta)

HB 244 – Instigate Litigation on Coal Exports through Attorney General Slush Fund (create a $1 million trust fund to sue Washington and Oregon into accepting train loads of Eastern Montana and Wyoming coal for shipment abroad; Sponsored by Jeff Essmann, R-Billings)

There are a few progressive energy bills being forwarded.  For example, Rep. Mary Ann Dunwell (D-Helena) is sponsoring HB 243 – Public Disclosure of Fracking Fluids and Landowner Notification.

The Montana Environmental Information Center is tracking these, and other environmental and energy related bills at its website.

It looks like the legislature’s energy policies, with a few exceptions, are bass-ackwards.

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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Pete Talbot

'Papa’ Pete Talbot is first and foremost a grandfather to five wonderful grandchildren. Like many Montanans, he has held numerous jobs over the years: film and video producer, a partner in a marketing and advertising firm, a builder and a property manager. He’s served on local and statewide Democratic Party boards. Pete has also been blogging at various sites for over a decade. Ping-pong and skiing are his favorite diversions. He enjoys bourbon.

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