March Madness (in April) at the Montana Legislature

March Madness may be over for college basketball, but madness is entering full swing at the Montana Legislature. This is the time of the session when the worst bills are being debated, when deals are being cut behind closed doors, and when legislators are trying to wrap up their work and get out of Helena as soon as possible. That all adds up to mischief. There are numerous dreadful bills that remain alive and we really need your help to kill them. Please call your legislators and the Governor TODAY and ask them to protect clean energy in Montana and your right to a clean and healthful environment.

You can leave a message for individual legislators, as well as for House and Senate Committee members, by calling Legislative Services at (406) 444-4800 from 7:30 AM to 5:00 PM. You can contact the Governor at (406) 444-3111 or [email protected].

Clean Energy – Vetoes Needed – Call Governor Bullock – (406) 444-3111

Senator Pat Connell

Senator Pat Connell

SB 7 (Sen. Pat Connell, R-Hamilton).

Status: Passed the Senate and the House.

Awaiting action by the Governor. Position: Oppose.

This bill would discriminate against net-metered customers by saying they – and only they – may not benefit from a “subsidy.” This bill runs contrary to reality. The electric grid has always operated with many types of customers who cost more or less than others to serve and yet are charged the same rate. For example, rural and remote residential customers often live where grid infrastructure is expensive to build and maintain and only benefits a small number of customers, yet they pay the same rate as residential customers in dense urban areas who are cheaper to serve. To target net-metering customers in this way is discriminatory on its face and would take Montana’s solar industry backward.

Senator Mike Lang

Senator Mike Lang

SB 154 (Sen. Mike Lang, R-Malta).

Status: Passed the Senate. Awaiting action on the House floor.

Position: Oppose.

This bill would harm solar jobs and investments in Montana by eliminating modest incentives for net-metered clean energy systems. Montana’s solar industry is on the cusp of explosive growth that would create new, good paying jobs around the state. Instead of seeking to encourage these new jobs and help these businesses grow, this bill bluntly targets only net metering tax credits for elimination. When the Republican-controlled legislature first passed net-metering in 1999, it found that “it is in the public interest to promote net-metering because it encourages private investment in renewable energy resources, stimulates Montana’s economic growth, and enhances the continued diversification of the energy resources used in Montana.” This remains true today and we should continue to promote small-scale solar, not discourage it.

Coal & Dirty Energy – Call Legislators & Committees

Senator Duane Ankney

Senator Duane Ankney

SB 338 (Sen. Duane Ankney, R-Colstrip).

Status: Passed the Senate.

Awaiting action in the House Energy, Technology, and Federal Relations Committee.

Position: Oppose.

This is a punitive bill that will scare away investments in large-scale clean energy development in Montana. The bill would force the owners of Colstrip to pay outlandish sums to the City of Colstrip, the state of Montana, and property owners in and around Colstrip if any units of the Colstrip plant are closed, but fails to guarantee the cleanup of the extensive contamination at Colstrip, fails to protect workers, and fails to require the owners to provide clean water to the town. Out-of-state utilities are the ones who would buy wind energy generated in Montana, but this bill would discourage such investments at a time when those utilities are looking to develop clean energy resources. This bill puts a giant “closed for business” sign on the state, and would create immeasurable uncertainty for utilities and almost certainly cause out-of-state firms to invest in clean energy anywhere but in Montana.

Senator Tom Richmond

Senator Tom Richmond

SB 235 (Sen. Tom Richmond, R-Billings).

Status: Passed the Senate. Awaiting action in the House Natural Resources Committee.

Position: Oppose.

This bill would allow the Montana Land Board to extend the duration of coal leases beyond their customary 10-year term if the Board finds that doing so would be in the “best interest of the state.” The bill could result in a lease renewal for the Otter Creek coal tracts if Arch Coal fails to develop the mine by the end of its current 10-year lease. The bill would also mean that the State would forego the possible additional revenue from a new lease.

SB 93 (Sen. Tom Richmond, R-Billings).

Status: Passed the Senate. Awaiting action on the House floor.

Position: Oppose.

This bill would replace rules that were recently adopted by the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation that required drilling operators to notify homeowners and businesses within a certain distance before beginning drilling. This bill would reduce the distance used to determine who is notified from 1,320 feet to 990 feet and remove schools, hospitals, and offices from the notification requirements.

Water and DEQ – Call Legislators and Committees

Representative Carl Glimm

Representative Carl Glimm

HB 339 (Rep. Carl Glimm, R-Kila).

Status: Passed the House. Awaiting action on the Senate floor.

Position: Oppose.

This is perhaps the most troubling water-related bill of the 2017 Session. This bill would re-open a loophole that exempted residential wells in subdivisions from having to obtain water rights and overturn a Supreme Court decision protecting Montana’s water resources and property rights. Developers would again be able to install wells that deplete stream flows, violate senior water rights, increase sprawl, and intensify conflicts among water users. It would be irresponsible to impose arbitrary guidelines for water use in a state with complex hydrology and already over-allocated streams.

Senator Duane Ankney

Senator Duane Ankney

SB 337 (Sen. Duane Ankney, R-Colstrip).

Status: Passed the Senate.

Awaiting action in the House Natural Resources Committee.

Position: Oppose.

This bill would eliminate the Montana Board of Environmental Review (BER). The BER has critical oversight authority over the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) for rule-making purposes, as well as in deciding challenges to permit decisions and enforcement actions. The BER is comprised of technical experts from around Montana who volunteer their time and act as an independent body that determines whether DEQ has followed the law and whether DEQ’s rules need to be changed to protect public health and safety. Polluting industries are upset that the BER recently refused to rubber stamp a permit issued by DEQ for water discharges at a coal mine. Eliminating the BER would be a blow to the public’s right to hold DEQ accountable when it fails to do its job. Requiring someone to appeal a DEQ decision to DEQ, as this bill would do, just puts the fox in charge of the henhouse.