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Gazette opinion: Republicans, please remember Republican values
GAZETTE OPINION

Gazette opinion: Republicans, please remember Republican values

Colstrip Power Plant

The Colstrip Power Plant, pictured on Oct. 2, 2020.

Editor's note: This editorial has been corrected to reflect the fact that Attorney General Austin Knudsen has not taken a role in supporting the legislation to change the Colstrip operating contract. The bill does refer to the Attorney General, who would have a role in the implementation of the bill's provisions.

Both the legislative and executive branches of our state government seem to feel there is absolutely no limit to their power.

The latest manifestation of this is Republicans' play to unilaterally change the Colstrip operating contract, never mind that it's not a state contract, it's a contract between private parties of 40 years' standing.

The state House of Representatives voted enthusiastically to support this move Monday.

Whatever one thinks of the merits of that contract, the action to unilaterally change it by state government fiat has to be one of the most anti-traditional-Republican things this Republican administration has done. Which is saying something.

The Colstrip bills in the Legislature also indicate that the state government is whistling past the graveyard of the coal industry, ignoring both the climate change issue itself and coal-negative market trends (ironically a byproduct of fracking, since natural gas is now so plentiful and inexpensive that coal can't compete) as well as the legal obligations of power providers in other states.

While Montana has not seen fit to set green-energy deadlines, surrounding states like Wyoming and Idaho have done so, and so have Washington and Oregon, end users of much of Colstrip's electricity. And that ultimately means that regardless of its own goals, if Montana wishes to continue to be a power exporter, it must switch from coal generation to renewables like solar, wind, and hydrogen.

But rather than accept the writing on the wall and figuring out a constructive way forward, the Legislature is attempting to take the state back in time to when coal was king, and manipulate a private contract in a legally dubious fashion.

Unfortunately, this is just one example of the current government's effort to take the state backward in ways that are not only dangerous to industry and tourism, but also likely to run up significant legal expenses.

Welcome to our new, old-timey Montana, and never mind the consequences.

This editorial represents the views of the Billings Gazette Editorial Board: President Dave Worstell, Regional Editor David McCumber and Chief Photographer Larry Mayer. 

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