Established by a vote of the people in 1976, 50 percent of the coal tax is set aside in a permanent Coal Tax Trust Fund for the benefit of future generations. Once the coal is gone, what will we have to show for this valuable resource that once existed in the Treasure State? While the income is available each year, it takes approval of three-fourths of each house of the Legislature to spend the principal.
Every Republican governor has been hell bent on busting this trust. Despite their rhetoric, Republicans can never seem to find enough money to spend. Just imagine their frustration; a big pot of money and they can’t spend it. Republican candidate for governor Rick Hill is no exception.
His education policy statement states, “The Hill Administration will place a referendum on the ballot to allow the people of Montana to cap the coal trust for ten years.” He proposes to use the funds to finance infrastructure improvements including school buildings. Whether you cap the trust and use the principal for 10 years or 100 years, it is still busting the trust to get at the principal.
First, Hill apparently thinks he can avoid the three-fourths vote requirement by amending the Constitution with a mere two-thirds vote of the Legislature and a vote of the people. But is this really something that should be put into the Constitution?
Second, the Treasure State Endowment already does exactly the same thing. All of the income each year from this fund, currently $242 million, is available to local governments for infrastructure improvements. It is a very popular program.
Third, with interest rates so low, there really is no need when money can be obtained so cheaply by bonding.
Fourth, it is a very bad precedent. If we busted the trust for every worthy cause, there soon would not be any principal left. That is exactly what has happened to every other trust fund that is not constitutionally protected.
And fifth, Republican candidate for governor Jack Ramirez had the exact same proposal 32 years ago and it was rejected.
Hill’s idea to cap the trust is a very bad idea. It steals from future generations for the hope of a few votes.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 October 2012 12:57
Four years ago, President Obama campaigned on eliminating coal from America’s energy mix.
And, unlike many campaign promises, this one is coming true.
Recently, Billings was shaken when we learned that the Corette coal-fired electrical generator in Yellowstone County will be shut down due to new, Obama-administration regulations. What has been happening in many other parts of the country, but we thought would never happen here, hit us squarely where it hurts: in our community and economy.
Corette isn’t the first generator that is being mothballed due to the Obama administration’s War on Coal. Already, 204 generating facilities in 25 states — representing 31 gigawatts of generating capacity — will go off line as a direct result of a barrage of carefully implemented new Environmental Protection Agency rules aimed at ending coal production and use.
Sixty percent of Montana’s electricity comes from coal. At 154 megawatts, enough to power 100,000 homes, Corette represents a significant share of our energy mix that will now have to be replaced.
The likely result will be that electricity for Montana will come from possibly out-of-state sources, causing prices in Montana to spike in coming years.
And Corette isn’t the only plant in Montana that is in jeopardy. Obama’s EPA already has additional proposed regulations on the drawing board aimed at power plants like the larger Colstrip generators. Piling several of these regulations on top of each other causes compliance costs to skyrocket, making it nearly impossible for many existing power generators to stay in business. For Obama and his politically motivated EPA supporters, that’s the whole point.
Losing Corette put 35 hardworking Montanans out of work. This comes at a time when Montana is in the critical first stages of an energy boom that can create thousands of new jobs. Not to mention the increased tax revenues that go along with more Montana coal production. Sadly, we’re heading in the opposite direction.
Losing Corette also represents a loss of $2 million in property tax revenue a year for Yellowstone County. That’s money that goes to our schools, our roads, water and sewer infrastructure, and all the other important services government provides for our community. That’s $2 million that will be very difficult to replace.
Make no mistake, President Obama and the environmental activists entrenched in his administration and the EPA know exactly what they are doing. Closing Corette wasn’t an “unintended consequence” — it was the plan.
Our own Sen. Jon Tester was warned that these new EPA regulations that are forcing Corette to close would be devastating to Montana coal-fired generators, but he voted for them anyway.
We have a right to expect better from our elected representatives. When we elected Jon Tester, we sent him to protect our interests. In this case he failed. He has a responsibility to make it right.
Senate District 26
Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 October 2012 12:56
More jobs, cheaper electricity. That’s what Sen. Jon Tester has helped bring to Montana.
When leading the Montana Senate, Tester authored our Renewable Portfolio Standard.
It requires 15 percent of the electricity sold by private utilities to come from renewables by 2015.
Since Montana has 395 megawatts of wind generating capacity, it helped create many of the approximately 595 turbine construction and 39 permanent turbine maintenance jobs here.
What about cost? During the most recent two years the Public Service Commission has posted prices, power coming from Judith Gap has cost the same as power coming from Colstrip 4 even if you add in the production tax credit (PTC) for wind. Over those years the PTC averaged 2.15 cents/kWh. That’s essentially the same as the difference between the two-year averages of power costs from Colstrip 4 minus those from Judith Gap ($0.6849 - $0.47).
Thus for the same price, NorthWestern customers are getting electrons from Judith Gap that don’t create mercury or carbon dioxide to pollute our trout streams, or increase drought, floods, and wildfires that brown-out the big sky.
In 2015, when the 10-year PTC ceases for the Judith Gap project, power from there should be 2.15 cent/kWh cheaper than coal generated electrons.
So stop with the big-money Republican ads demagoguing radical environmentalists, Obama, Tester and the Environmental Protection Agency’s cleanup regulations for causing a loss of 35 Corette Plant jobs in 3 years. Clean, cheaper-energy jobs have replaced them at the Basin Creek Natural Gas Plant and wind farms around Montana.
Russell L. Doty
Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 October 2012 12:56
Regarding Sen. Jon Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, I attended the Yellowstone Conversation Round Table meeting in Billings where Sen. Tester’s point person on this proposed legislation presented information on its origin and content. At the conclusion of a very well presented program, I had the opportunity to ask if this bill would guarantee that even one tree would be harvested. The answer was “no.”
Although the bill is said to be structured to service lawsuits, it will still have to work its way through legal challenges. The result: wilderness today; jobs maybe ... someday, if the proposed harvest area has not burned by then as the Custer Forest Ashland District proposed thinning project has done. Although the stakeholders won’t go to court, there are plenty of activist groups that will.
Thomas C. Staycheff
Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 October 2012 12:55
When a body of the Legislature stands as one in unconditional opposition to everything the president would do, while clearly stating publicly that their only objective is to ruin the president, no matter the effect on the economy or U.S. citizens, I have to think there is something cockeyed in their brains.
President Obama has tried repeatedly to find a way to compromise so we can move ahead only to find that, when he gives them what they ask for, it is not what they wanted after all. They relentlessly use dimwitted obstructionism as if it were a sensible way to reach a bipartisan conclusion, then accuse the president of failing to perform. They lie about the president personally, and about his policies and objectives.
President Obama is lambasted for not creating jobs. When he tries to put people to work rebuilding those parts of our country for which government is responsible, Republicans proclaim indignantly that government cannot create jobs. They build an impenetrable wall of obstructionism.
It’s time to fire the Republicans. They and the Koch brothers, Carl Rove, or any of the wealthy obstructionists can pay for restoring crumbling infrastructure, or maybe they can do the work themselves to save money.
This method should shrink the size of government and save money. We are already paying certain Republicans to do a job they are refusing to do, so maybe they would prefer labor.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 October 2012 12:54
I’ve listened to the debates and seen the ads. It is clear that Republicans want to tank all environmental regulations, all safety regulations, and all regulations to protect citizens from disastrous actions by corporations. Republican candidates say all of this is necessary to promote jobs. “Get the government out of the way.”
The vision of these Republican candidates is not a vision of America that I want.
I don’t want an America where the air is so polluted more people die of respiratory disease and all of us suffer.
I don’t want an America where the water is so polluted that our lakes and streams are barren and deadly.
I don’t want an America where safety rules are so lax that unavoidable injuries to workers and citizens multiply exponentially.
I don’t want an America where most people don’t have health insurance and if you are unlucky enough to get sick or injured, you either file bankruptcy or go without.
I don’t want an America where corporations are so powerful that people are discarded and taken advantage of all the time.
Sure, every business could make more money if they did not have any pesky environmental or safety regulations to worry about. But that is not right. We can have a balance.
A large part of the history of growth in this great country has more often been accomplished through persistent, acceptable compromise. Most often it keeps us living, working, playing together and going forward.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 October 2012 12:53