Legislators briefed on conservation issues

2012-12-19T00:00:00Z Legislators briefed on conservation issuesBy BRETT FRENCH french@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

There is a narrative in Montana that only resource extraction jobs create money, and that needs to change, said state Rep. Margie MacDonald, D-Billings.

“We need the conservation community to stand up and be warriors for clean jobs around the state,” she told the Billings Conservation Roundtable on Tuesday.

MacDonald and four other Democratic legislators listened to conservation, renewable-energy and voter access groups’ assessments of the upcoming legislative session and lists of bills that will be important to them. The lawmakers also provided a preview of what they think some of the important issues in the session will be.

Although invited, no GOP representatives attended.

Rep. Kelly McCarthy agreed with MacDonald, adding that he foresees attempts this session to promote the coal industry.

“That’s not fair. We shouldn’t be propping up a dying industry,” he said.

Charyn Ayoub, of the Northern Plains Resource Council, said her group will push to do away with the oil and gas tax holiday passed by the 1999 Legislature to encourage oil and gas development.

As written, the law allows oil or gas wells to be taxed at a rate of .76 percent for the first 12 months for vertical wells and for the first 18 months for horizontal wells. Citing the thousands of wells already present in Montana and the many more being drilled as the “fracking” boom spreads in Eastern Montana, Ayoub said the holiday no longer makes sense.

“Clearly there is no longer a need to manipulate tax policy to encourage development,” she said.

Ayoub claimed that the law cost the state more than a quarter of a billion dollars between 2003 and 2007 before most of the recent drilling began. She also said the current disbursement of the taxes collected is not getting to the impacted communities quickly enough or in an amount that reflects the infrastructure stresses on small towns.

When asked about the proposal, Sen. Kendall Van Dyk said he wasn’t optimistic that such a measure would pass the Legislature. A similar bill in 2009 was shot down, he said.

“It still merits having the discussion, but I’m not overly optimistic about its passage,” he said.

John Gibson, of the Public Lands/Water Access Association, said he foresees more attacks in this legislative session on Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks as well as issues dealing with hunting and road and stream access.

“I understand they will try and water down our stream access law again,” he said.

The PLWA is in court fighting to ensure stream access, as well as land access over roads that have been closed.

Gibson is searching for a sponsor for a bill that would require a landowner to prove to county commissioners that a road is private before it can be closed to public access, rather than the other way around.

“These big guys buying ranches will close these roads,” he said. “They want people blocked at their boundaries.”

Other issues the group discussed included:

-- Increasing the push for more renewable energy production and energy efficiency. Right now, the state is requiring publicly traded utilities to have 15 percent of their power production from renewable energy by 2015.

“We’d like to see it moved to 25 percent by 2025,” said Theresa Keaveny of the Montana Conservation Voters.

-- Beefing up the Montana Environmental Policy Act, which was weakened in the last Legislature.

-- Supporting the creation of a new commission for Montana state parks, separate from the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, and further study of how to make Virginia City and Nevada City self-sustaining.

-- Opposing mail-ballot-only elections, which can disenfranchise rural and native voters, a measure that Montana Conservation Voters had previously backed.

“We disagree that there is a problem in need of a solution,” Keaveny said.

She said the group is also looking at ways to ease problems at voting sites.

The Democratic legislators agreed that they think this next session in the House will be all about defense, since Republicans are in the majority.

“For the most part, with 39 of us, we’re stronger than before,” said Rep. Virginia Court.

She added that Democrats will be reaching out to GOP members to override measures, but that the public needs to help by testifying at hearings.

“I think that really resonates with the committee,” she said.

Copyright 2015 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(5) Comments

  1. Demiurge
    Report Abuse
    Demiurge - December 19, 2012 10:54 am
    The federal government has invested money in all kinds of new technologies over many decades. There is nothing unusual about Obama here. Many of these have paid off very well for the US economy. Some don't. That's investment. One of the biggest sources has been DARPA.
  2. Jus Wundrin
    Report Abuse
    Jus Wundrin - December 19, 2012 10:08 am
    Wow, another socialist-progressive-enviro love fest with all the trimmings!

    The repubs were right in avoiding this gaia church gathering.
  3. Jus Wundrin
    Report Abuse
    Jus Wundrin - December 19, 2012 10:06 am
    Kelly, its only economical to do so because of the obamas war on fossil fuels. After the coal industry is destroyed, the obama will turn his sights on natural gas, and the fracking that goes along with it.

    Do you not remember all the taxpayers $$$ wasted on failed green energy companies? The obama has still not learned his lesson. Do you remember all the anti coal bed methane folks trying to get legislation passed to stop it?

    You need to let that libertarian out a little more.
  4. Glaucon
    Report Abuse
    Glaucon - December 19, 2012 10:03 am
    "we did not want to see public funds used to prop up an industry that cannot stand on its own"

    So you are against the use of public funds, via grants to promote development of renewable sources.

    I guess I am confused. Are you lying now when you say you are against the use of public funds for favored industries, or are you lying on your campaign website when you say something else?

    I get it. Widely available production credits that are not exclusive to fossil fuels, are an industry subsidy that should be eradicated. Production mandates and subsidies for specific types of generation (wind) are necessary to balance the production tax credit that is also available to wind...

    As a final note, you do realize the eminent domain bill you criticize on your campaign website was a handout for a merchant line to carry wind energy right? The law was followed and clear for traditional energy, it is the renewable guys who need the special treatment.
  5. KellMac
    Report Abuse
    KellMac - December 19, 2012 8:18 am
    Before I get in too much trouble, I should clarify the context of my comment. In regards to production credits and renewable energy standards, I stated that the libertarian in me doesn't like subsidies to any producers, but that given the public support for oil, coal and gas, support for renewables helped level the playing field. I pointed out that the war on coal is not being fought by conservation groups but by economics. The Corette plant closed for four months this year not because of the EPA, but because it could not produce power at a price the market would support. Around 50 coal plants across the country are converting to gas because it is economically sound to do so. My comment was that wI did not want to see public funds used prop up an industry that cannot stand on it's own. Thanx, Rep. Kelly McCarthy

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