Democratic House candidate Lewis presents energy plan

2014-06-12T14:00:00Z 2014-07-30T23:20:25Z Democratic House candidate Lewis presents energy planBy CHARLES S. JOHNSON Gazette State Bureau The Billings Gazette

HELENA — Democratic U.S. House candidate John Lewis released a plan Thursday to spark a discussion on energy and jobs in Montana.

Lewis said he welcomes feedback on his plan, “All of the Above and Below: Montana Energy Jobs Framework.” People may send their comments to info@montanansforlewis.com.

His plan covers a variety of energy sources, including coal, wind power, oil and biomass. 

“They’re proposals, but it’s meant to spark a Montana-focused conversation on our state’s energy future,” Lewis said in an interview. “Instead of waiting and reacting to what Washington is doing, we need a Montana discussion and Montana home-grown solutions that support energy jobs, support technology and innovation, while also doing our part to address climate change.”

Lewis also called for creating an energy research hub anchored by the Montana University System to focus on carbon capture technology, biofuel research and advanced workforce training to support Montana’s growing energy industry.

“The main point here in Montana, we know better than the federal government how to manage our resources,” he said. 

Lewis said people need to come together to solve tough problems. He hopes this will help start the conversation to solve the problems “instead of kicking the can down the road for our kids and grandkids.”

Asked what his plan would cost, Lewis said he had no estimate. He said they are general themes designed to start a conversation and drive Montanans to a solution, he said.

Lewis, a Helena resident and former top aide to Sen. Max Baucus, won the Democratic nomination for the House last week. He will face Republican nominee Ryan Zinke, a former state senator from Whitefish, and Libertarian Mike Fellows in the general election in November.

Here are some of the highlights by topic:

-- Make the Indian coal production tax permanent. This federal tax credit supports more than 100 jobs that pay an average salary of $75,000 on the Crow Indian Reservation, where one in four residents are unemployed, and other reservations.

-- End the corn ethanol mandate and shift to advanced biofuels. Since the 1970s, oil refineries have been required to blend corn ethanol with oil, costing taxpayers billions of dollars and raising gasoline prices at the pump. With the oil boom in the Bakken, Lewis called for Congress to abandon that mandate.

Instead, Lewis supports increasing the cellulosic fuels component of the renewable fuels standard, while adding Montana-made biofuels, such as those produced from camelina, to the fuels standard.

-- Expand Montana’s renewable energy resource standard to the federal government. A Montana law requires public utilities and competitive electricity suppliers to obtain 15 percent of electricity sales from renewable energy resources by 2015. Such a national plan would increase the number of wind farms built in Montana and create jobs here, he said.

-- Approve Keystone XL pipeline. After five years of delays, Lewis said, “It’s time for the president to show some leadership and make a decision on the pipeline.” He called it a “shovel-ready energy infrastructure” that will support hundreds of Montana jobs and thousands of jobs nationally.

Lewis called for landowner protections and an emergency response plan in case of a rupture of spill and a guarantee the pipeline will be built with American-made products and workers paid prevailing wages. It would provide new revenue for eastern Montana communities feeling the impact of energy development.

-- Boost Montana’s wind capacity by giving producers a 10-year production tax credit. Lewis said Montana ranks first among the states in wind speed and second for overall wind capacity and can produce 240 times the current wind energy used. He supports increasing transmission capacity by prioritizing upgrades to sell Montana wind power to meet growing markets.

-- Call on the Environmental Protection Agency to issue a final rule to clarify the benefit of forest bioenergy and give certainty to biomass producers and investors by stating that burning biomass for power generation is a low carbon solution. Expanding Montana’s wood biomass would be critical for jobs for rural forest counties, he said

-- Create an energy research hub anchored by the Montana University System.

“It’s about Montana being a national leader,” Lewis said. “The University System would drive it. It’s about bringing diversity in energy — coal, natural gas, oil, wind, biofuels.”

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