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The 2001 supplemental appropriations bill, which passed the Senate Tuesday night, includes money to help Montana and other Western states with energy development, said Montana Republican Sen. Conrad Burns on Wednesday.

Burns offered an amendment, agreed to by Appropriations Chairman Robert Byrd, R-W.Va., to shift $3 million from the Department of Interior to the Bureau of Land Management to expedite the process of energy-related permits.

In addition, Burns gained funding for a study by the Western Area Power Administration on the likely costs of transmission expansion in WAPA’s Upper Great Plains Region.

“Lack of funding has caused a growing backlog in energy-permit approvals," Burns said.

“That, along with WAPA’s lack of transmission capabilities only exacerbates the energy crisis in Montana and the rest of the Western United States. In securing these funds, we hope to move a step closer to ending the energy crisis for Montanans and our neighbors."

The $3 million in Interior funding shifted to the BLM is shared between states including Montana, Wyoming, Alaska, New Mexico and California. Of that, $950,000 is provided to accelerate required studies in the Powder River Basin of Montana to support coalbed-methane development, Burns said.

The studies include air sampling on tribal lands, wildlife-habitat assessments and a look at the effects on the Tongue River.

In addition, the BLM will provide part these funds to the Department of Energy and Montana State University’s joint research on wetlands filtration to address water-quality concerns associated with coalbed-methane development.

Montana and the BLM are jointly conducting an environmental impact statement on coalbed-methane development. Burns said he hopes that, by devoting funds to coalbed methane research and development, energy-related concerns can be fully addressed.

Other initiatives within the amendment address electricity transmission bottlenecks on public lands in the Western United States, as well as permitting activities allowing power plants to begin operation in New Mexico.

In addition, the bill provides $250,000 for a study by WAPA of the costs of transmission expansion in the Upper Great Plains Region. States such as Montana and North Dakota contain substantial amounts of low-cost energy sources, but lack the transmission facilities to deliver the energy to consumers.

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