By Peter Zimmerman, Daily Montanan

Less than two years ago, just over the border in Campbell County, Wyoming, around 700 coal workers lost their jobs when the Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr mines shut down.  It is a fate many in Montana’s coal country, like the home of the Colstrip power plant, fear is in their future.

Colstrip Republican Sen. Duane Ankney has introduced two bills, Senate Bills 86 and 87, that he said would protect citizens from the fallout of plant closures.  But opponents of the bills argue they miss the opportunity to invest in the community’s future.

SB 86 would require energy companies to pay into a trust to support those who own property that would be affected by the closure of a coal-fired power plant and SB 87 would allow municipalities to reclaim water rights owned by coal-fired utilities.

Ankney said these steps are needed to ensure the Colstrip community can weather the closing of the powerplant. The plant, and the Rosebud coal mine where the plant gets its coal, employ almost 800 full-time workers.  Because of Colstrip’s reliance on coal and isolated location far from larger cities and towns with more options for employment, a loss of coal jobs could be catastrophic to residents.

“If the plants close, the loss of property tax costs from the plants will likely exceed $1.8 million. This cost could be shifted to the remaining taxpayers but with 700-plus estimated job losses, closure of the mine and other business there won’t be many people left to share the burden. The reality would be budget cuts and layoffs,” Doug, Martens, Rosebud County Commissioner, said via email.

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