[Braxton Mitchell] Montanans elect five Public Service Commissioners to regulate investor-owned utility
monopolies, but the legislature has not given them the ability to actively represent the ratepayers
who elected them. House Bill 314 will change that by mandating the Commission consider local
economic impact in their decisions that involve a possible coal plant closure. Afterall, what good
is an elected body if they cannot do all they can to look out for their constituents?
In the legislature, we keep hearing about declining revenue in the Coal Trust. This is no doubt i
part the result of decades of lawsuits from dark money environmental groups – some of which
have financial ties to seedy figures like George Soros. As Senator Duane Ankney (R-Colstrip)
has pointed out, you will never see a little league jersey with Sierra Club, MEIC, Vote Solar, or
Earthjustice on it because these groups only care about themselves – not Montana. When a coal
train passes by, these groups see the opportunity to sue for profit. But I see enough tax revenue to
pay a first-year teacher’s salary.
Our state’s coal severance tax funds our schools, libraries, parks, and so much more. Our coal
communities support the union jobs and small businesses which have made Montana great for
generations. In our mines and coal-fired facilities, you will find the hard-working Montanans
who produce affordable, reliable power. Two years ago, almost to the day, there was a cold snap
that led to one utility having to pay more than $900 per megawatt for power on the market
because intermittent power sources (wind and solar) were not producing any power when some
Montanans were experiencing subzero temperatures.
Coal Country has seen their education funding dry up while some public educators in our big
cities sit in their classrooms and preach that coal is going to end the world as we know it. What
they should be teaching is that, because of the environmental stewardship of our miners and plant
workers, Colstrip has the same air quality as Glacier National Park.
In 2019, Montana-Dakota Utilities (MDU) had a rate case before the PSC which, when
approved, allowed the utility monopoly to begin closure of their Richland County coal plant.
Because of the hit to coal revenues, more than jobs have been jeopardized. The Savage School
has been left with record-low funding. They do not have the funding to replace their fire escape
or toxic water system. The school is having to purchase water by the pallet for drinking and
preparing school lunches.
Despite pleading workers and community members, an MDU representative summed up the
current reality by saying, “Unfortunately, in this regulatory regime, you don’t let us count
heartstrings. You don’t let us count jobs. You don’t let us count community impacts.” House Bill
314 will correct this injustice. A coalition of Republicans, Democrats, and Tribal members are
going to work together to pass this bill which will finally protect working families and small
businesses that keep our entire state moving forward.
[Editor’s Note: This op-ed was provided by Rep. Braxton Mitchell]