By Anne Hedges
We are happy to report that we are better off than we expected at the halfway point of the session. Of course, that’s not saying much considering we expected it to be a disaster. Fortunately, thanks to so many of you who contacted your legislators, some of the worst ideas so far this session were defeated the week before the transmittal deadline. These victories and many more give us hope that we may still be able to stop some of the most objectionable proposals in the second half of the session – and perhaps even get some positive legislation passed.
The victories came daily before the transmittal break. First up, NorthWestern Energy had some proposals that were so offensive that they were even too much for conservative legislative committees. NorthWestern’s bill to essentially allow it to establish new rates for rooftop solar customers (HB 643, Rep. Josh Kassmier, R-Fort Benton) was objected to by some of the most conservative politicians in the state: former Rep. Derek Skees and current Public Service Commissioner Randy Pinocci. Both argued that the state needs all of the power it can get, including from rooftop solar, or there will be electricity blackouts. While we disagree with those arguments, they were persuasive. The bill was defeated in the House Energy, Technology, and Federal Relations Committee. (A similar proposal will likely be introduced by the time you read this. See article on pg. 8 for details.)
The next day, the Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee defeated another outrageous NorthWestern proposal to give it complete control over upgrades and expansions of the electric transmission system (SB 353, Sen. Walt Sales, R-Manhattan). This obscure bill posed a huge threat to consumers and the climate, as it could have put Montanans on the hook for billions of dollars in increased costs while allowing NorthWestern to interfere with the development of renewable energy across the state. This proposal was rejected by all but one of the committee members.
The very next day saw another rotten proposal defeated. Once again, Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick (R-Great Falls) brought a bill to expand takings law in Montana (SB 287). The state and federal constitutions already prohibit the government from taking private property without compensating a landowner. Sen. Fitzpatrick’s bill would have dramatically expanded the definition of “property,” thereby increasing the instances in which large corporate interests could argue that the government must compensate property owners for potential losses due to regulations.
The first half of the session also saw the defeat of two enormous tax increases on wind energy, bills to undermine the judicial branch, bills to (illegally) take control from the federal government for coal mine and air quality regulation, bills to require a vote to adopt local growth policies, bills to support a U.S. Constitutional Convention, and bills to make it more difficult to fight back mining proposals, such as the Smith River mine.
These victories and many other smaller ones give us hope that cooler heads will prevail this session. But as we know from experience, the second half can be even worse. Bad bills get introduced as revenue bills, terrible amendments can be added to otherwise good bills, and the last minute undemocratic conference committees that are supposed to work out differences between the House and Senate versions of a bill can completely rewrite a bill without public involvement.
MEIC’s lobbying team will continue to work with our partners and fight back against such shenanigans, to defeat or amend bad bills, and to keep you informed so you can help us do so!
This article was published in the March 2023 issue of Down To Earth.