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Tying Energy to Healthcare is Risky Business

Montana legislators are attempting to tie health care to energy through SB331 and HB658.

Tying Energy to Healthcare is Risky Business
Colstrip Power Plant

Tying Energy to Healthcare is Risky Business

By Tim Ravndal

Multiple coal companies are fighting the political deals that are regulating coal mining here in Montana and Wyoming.

Colstrip Montana is a community that is struggling to stay alive with regulatory takings shutting down production.  The community founded on coal production has earned a reputation for depositing revenue into the state coffers through the Montana coal trust fund.

Colstrip Units 1 and 2 are currently scheduled to be closed by July 1, 2022, under a settlement agreement signed by its joint owners.

Senator Tom Richmond a Republican Senator from Billings Montana is one of two sponsors of SB331, “Montana Energy Security Act of 2019”. Senator Richmond is concerned about the future of power generation here in Montana.

Senator Tom Richmond (R)

SB331 is also brought forward by a member of the Solutions Caucus wing of the Republican Party Senator Duane Ankney.  Senator Ankney, a career politician from from Colstrip, often crosses political lines and votes with the Democratic Caucus on bills before the Montana Legislature.

The bill will rearrange the public service commission authority over coal production in Montana providing legislative assistance to Colstrip Montana and energy production.

It also deals directly with what Montana regulators are going to do with Colstrip generating complex that consists of four different units. The bill primarily focuses on securing Unit # 4 into the future energy portfolio for Montana.

We reported earlier on HB658 that will bring Medicaid Expansion to Montana.  The two pieces of legislation are now in the back rooms of the legislature where the arm wrestling continues.  Members of the solutions caucus have sided with the democratic side of the Senate in supporting HB658.

SB331 has a fiscal note that appears to be very benign in any impact to the taxpayers of Montana.  Showing only a $400.00 permit cost, there is concern that the financial impact to the Montana taxpayers through the loss of taxable revenue from the Colstrip is not in the analysis.

Tying the two pieces of legislation together brings another concern. HB658 fiscal note is expansive and will cost taxpayers millions of dollars if passed.

Senator Duane Ankney (R)

Many legislators have spoken out against tying health care to energy, stating the two laws are to be dealt with separately.  Several legislators have also said that putting the two bills against each other will not set well in public education funding according to fiscal note analysis.

The actual loss of revenue to Montana from coal is certainly going to hit the taxpayers of Montana and this nation in multiple different financial respects.

There is a difference of opinion between the states of Washington, Oregon, and Montana on the future of coal mining and generation of power from Colstrip.

The desirability of maintaining coal fired electrical generating resources through the operations of the Colstrip is a priority.  Closing the generating units disproportionately affects Montana energy customers and the state’s economy.

The continued operation of Colstrip Unit 4 and the interconnected 500-KV transmission line and the 27500 KV line are in the economic best interests of Montana according to the sponsors of the legislation.

With the legislation now in the 11th hour of the Montana Legislative process, many are worried that political posturing will hold SB331 hostage over HB658 or vice versa.  Either way, many are concerned that the economic future here in Montana is up to the highest bidder.

 

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