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Montana runs on coal, let's not forget it

by DUANE ANKNEY
| March 5, 2021 7:00 AM

For more than 20 years, I've worked with many key industry leaders, stakeholders, state officials and the past two presidential administrations on developing energy policy. Montana has always been a resource-rich, energy-blessed state.

But we are at an inflection point. We can choose to reap the benefits of the resources and infrastructure we have in place to keep energy prices low, produce Made in America energy, and keep the lights and heat on in Montana homes. Or we can fall to the liberal demands of the Green New Deal and face repeated power outages, higher energy prices, thousands of lost jobs and a much weaker economy in Montana.

Unfortunately, the rolling blackouts occurring across the country are a grave reminder of the realities that far too many politicians refuse to face. That reality is the necessity of fossil fuels. Places like Colstrip keep Montana running. If we abandon it, our state will crumble. We must take all of the above approaches to energy policy to responsibly and sustainably keep Montana the Last Best Place. That means continuing to rely on coal, which offers reliable, base load energy.

What progressive environmentalists miss is the importance of reliable, base load electrical energy. Base load energy needs a base load payment, but without sufficient investment and focus on establishing base load power, what is happening across the country right now will happen in Montana.

Facing rolling blackouts in Texas and across the country, Americans were forced to ration their power usage. That means people facing sub-zero temperatures must turn off their heat, hospitals must stop providing care and monthly electricity bills skyrocket. These are stories you hear about in third-world nations, but we shouldn't have to accept these tragedies as a part of our daily lives. Energy in America should not be a luxury. In Montana, energy is a necessity.

People are suffering because of the blind drive to cut carbon emissions at all costs. Among those most negatively affected are hardworking Montanans and the thousands of union workers that depend on the fossil fuel industry and construction jobs created by projects like the Keystone XL pipeline and power plants like Colstrip.

The Colstrip Power Plant creates about 9,000 jobs directly and indirectly. Montanans' livelihoods depend on this plant, and our state economy thrives on fossil fuels. For example, according to a recent economic report by the University of Montana, closing Units 3 and 4 at Colstrip will: Terminate over 3,000 jobs with a yearly salary of $79,000; reduce the income received collectively by all Montana households by $325 million per year; cut state tax and nontax revenue collections on the order of $80 million per year; and create a population loss of 7,080 people by the year 2043, including almost 2,200 school-aged children.

The study also found that abandoning our most significant base load energy generation source will inevitably produce higher electricity prices for nearly every productive sector of the economy.

While the Green New Deal Democrats' idealistic goals sound nice in campaign speeches, the reality is that these types of anti-energy policies will severely hurt Montanans. The facts are on our side. If we don't quickly wise up, the rolling blackouts in Texas will soon make their way to Montana.

We cannot continue down the path that liberal environmentalists support. Montana's jobs, the livelihoods of hardworking citizens, critical tax revenue to fund essential services, and our way of life depend on our next steps.

I urge you to consider what you want the future of Montana to honestly look like and call your legislators in Helena to make your voice heard.

The author is a Republican state senator from Colstrip, representing District 20.