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GOP aims to ease way for energy projects
Sen. Jerry Black, R-Shelby

HELENA - The Republican-controlled Senate Energy Committee is planning special hearings on what the GOP considers a key issue this Legislature: how to ensure that energy-related projects with permits are not unduly delayed in Montana.

The panel will hold its first hearing Thursday afternoon at the Capitol on permitting of electric transmission lines, and then a second hearing Feb. 3 focusing on permits for coal-fired power plants.

Sen. Jerry Black, R-Shelby, the chairman of the panel, said he has invited a wide range of experts to testify, from energy companies to state regulators to environmental groups. Members of the public also are welcome to testify.

Legislative Republicans have said one of their top priorities this session is fixing what they see as flaws in the post-permitting process.

Rep. Llew Jones, R-Conrad, plans to sponsor one or more bills that would narrow the chances to challenge or delay an energy project once the developer has obtained the proper state permits.

Jones said Monday that the bills are still being drafted, and that he's trying to work with the Schweitzer administration and some Democrats to address potential problems in the bills.

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"We're trying to reach a reasonable midpoint that allows for some (appeals and challenges) but hopefully puts a dent in the gaming of the process," he said.

Black also said it's possible that his Senate committee might use information from the hearings to draft its own bill.

"This is an extremely important issue and we're aware that it can be contentious," he said. "These informational hearings are an opportunity to hear ideas and recommendations for improving the process."

The hearings will be held in Room 317 at 3 p.m. on both days.

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