HELENA — This week, candidates have been busy introducing legislation and laying out their campaign platforms. Here's a look at the week's most interesting and important developments in Montana's election campaigns:
Billions for coal: Democratic U.S. Sen. John Walsh, who is trying to keep the seat he was appointed to earlier this year, gave a lukewarm reception to President Barack Obama's plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants. Now he wants the federal government to spend at least $10 billion over the next decade on new coal technologies. Walsh says climate change is man-made and must be addressed, but in a way that preserves Montana's coal industry.
His "Ten in Ten" proposal calls for building 10 power plants in 10 years capable of capturing and storing carbon dioxide, a byproduct of burning coal and main contributor to climate change. Walsh spokeswoman Andrea Helling says he plans to introduce legislation on the matter in coming days. His opponent in the fall election, U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, has described climate change as a natural phenomenon. He's introduced legislation that could exempt coal-plants from the administration's proposal.
Funding rural/tribal water projects: Daines introduced a bill amendment to increase funding for rural water projects in the state. It would take $6 million from the Department of Energy's administration budget and $6 million from Solar Energy programs for the Rocky Boy's Chippewa Cree Tribe and North Central Mountain Rural Water System and the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes and Dry Prairie Rural Water System. "Every year we wait and delay funding of these essential projects, the more expensive construction, operation, and maintenance get," he said. Several people on the Rocky Boy Indian Reservation have pleaded guilty to corruption charges related to diverting thousands of dollars in federal aid meant for the water pipeline project. Daines' spokeswoman Alee Lockman said while they are concerned, they're encouraged by the tribe's work to resolve the issue. Walsh has introduced legislation to fund rural water projects by closing tax loopholes on companies that ship jobs overseas. Helling said the Bureau of Reclamation has assured Walsh that Rocky Boy's funding is being managed appropriately.
Sage grouse: Walsh introduced legislation this week that would require the federal government to disclose the information it will use to determine whether the sage grouse is listed under the Endangered Species Act. "My legislation requires the Obama Administration to be more transparent in their decision making and assists private landowners in their efforts as responsible stewards of the land," Walsh said. Daines previously introduced legislation which would prevent the sage grouse from being listed under the Endangered Species Act for 10 years and allow states to take the lead in sage grouse conservation. This week he requested federal funding for local conservation plans. If the federal government lists the sage grouse as an endangered species, it could limit development, energy exploration, hunting and ranching on the 165 million acres of the bird's habitat across 11 Western states. The Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission approved a plan Thursday to close all or parts of 32 counties to sage grouse hunting and to shorten the hunting season from two months to one.
Super PAC cooling off period: The Democratic U.S. House candidate, John Lewis, proposed extending the waiting period, from one year to two, before members of Congress can become lobbyists to independent-expenditure only committees, also known as super PACs. The proposal is a jab at Lewis' Republican opponent, Ryan Zinke. Zinke resigned as chairman of the super PAC he founded, Special Operations for America, in 2010 just weeks before announcing his candidacy last year. Zinke's spokeswoman, Shelby DeMars said, "There is no relationship between SOFA PAC and Zinke. We can't coordinate right now," Lewis' proposal is part of a bigger plan to overhaul Congress, including pay cuts and ending pensions for representatives, extending open-records laws, requiring disclosure of travel paid by private groups and withholding pay until Congress passes a budget.