Energy Environment Montana Politics

Montana Coal in Decline

Even Montana State Sen. Duane Ankney (R-Colstrip) realizes that the coal-fired generators, units one and two, won’t be around that much longer:

“The coal miner side in me says run those sons of a guns until 2070. The reasonable side of me says 2025-2030,” Montana Public Radio reports.

I’m thinking the closures may come sooner.  Washington state, a big purchaser of electricity from Colstrip, is mounting a carbon tax ballot initiative and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is talking about a cap on carbon emissions.

Then there are the EPA’s proposed limits on carbon dioxide, as much as a 47 percent decrease in emissions that could be required in Montana.

Another blow is a decrease in demand from the importers of coal. This from the Spokesman Review:

Montana’s largest coal producer expects to reduce shipments to Asia next year through a West Coast port, as exports of the fuel from the United States continue to slide and coal producers face mounting pressure because of new pollution regulations and cheap natural gas.

All this adds up to coal not being the attractive energy source it’s been in the past, making solar, wind and hydro a lot more viable.

In anticipating the shift to cleaner energy sources, it would be wise to plan ahead for the employees at Colstrip and surrounding mines: job training and employment opportunities in alternative energy production and related technologies.  Working with the Crow Tribe to mitigate the loss of income from coal mining is also a must.

There’s been mention of the loss of revenue state coffers would suffer from the demise of coal mining. But as Montana State Senator and former University of Montana professor of economics Dick Barrett (D-Missoula) points out, coal taxes don’t really contribute that much.  If you add all the revenue that the state gets from taxes, fees, the federal government, etc., you get about $8 billion.  Only .9 percent of that comes from coal.  Check out the chart on Barrett’s blog that puts it in perspective.

It’s not looking good for coal these days, and while that’s great news for the planet, we must plan ahead for those whose livelihoods depend on the industry.



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.


Click here to post a comment

Please enter an e-mail address

    • Exactly, Swede: rewilding the public and tribal lands north of an east/west line at Pecos, New Mexico and west of a north/south line from Oacoma, South Dakota to the Jefferson River in Montana then into the Yukon with wildlife corridors through private tracts could bring tourists from around the world.

  • Might as well add timber/lumber, oil and gas and other resource extraction commodities to the “in decline” list.

    Maybe someday soon the Montana Democratic Party and their leaders will get with the program, instead of politicians like Tester (and groups like the Montana Wilderness Association) calling for huge increases in (taxpayer subsidized) national forest logging in spite of a lumber glut and global economic realities.

    #KeepItPublic, right?

  • “we must plan ahead for those whose livelihoods depend on the industry”

    Why? We didn’t plan ahead for the livelihoods of anybody affected by NAFTA, the upcoming TTP/TTIP, the Iraq/Afghanistan wars, the housing bubble popping, the upcoming stock market devaluation, offshoring,… yada, yada, yada. Everybody’s livelihood is impacted by rising carbon dioxide levels — unless you’re wealthy enough to insulate yourself from the world’s perils.

    Why start worrying about a handful of coal industry workers who most likely have stocked away a nice nest egg compared to the lowly service workers in Missoula? Who has worried about the livelihoods of those living below median income as our country continues to redistribute wealth upwards?


      ” In 2013, the last year for which I can find complete data from the US Census Bureau, the state and Montana local governments collected a total of about $3.85 billion in taxes. That same year, according to the latest Montana Department of Revenue Biennial Report, coal paid severance and gross proceeds taxes of a tad more than $76 million, or 1.9 percent of the total. That, by way of comparison, is about the same as smokers paid in cigarette taxes….I’m not denying that declining coal production means real trouble for coal miners and their families and communities. But in thinking about the future of coal and climate policy, we shouldn’t be stampeded into thinking that lower production spells disaster for the state’s economy or the public purse, because it just isn’t so.” – Dick Barrett

Support Our Work!

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.

Subscribe Via E-mail


What Industry Will Republicans Prop Up with Corporate Welfare Next?

Follow us on Twitter

0 /* ]]> */