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Montana lawmakers consider bill on addressing impacts of Colstri - KXLH.com | Helena, Montana

Montana lawmakers consider bill on addressing impacts of Colstrip closures

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HELENA -

Montana lawmakers held their first hearing Thursday afternoon on a major initiative to deal with impacts from the upcoming closure of two electrical generating units at Colstrip.

The Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee heard testimony on Senate Bill 338, sponsored by Republican Sen. Duane Ankney, who represents Colstrip in the Legislature.

The bill would require Puget Sound Energy and Talen Energy, the companies that own Colstrip 1 and 2, to come up with a plan to address the costs of shutting down the units. That includes the costs of removing the physical unit, as well as lost revenue for state and local government, loss of real estate value for nearby property, and retraining for Colstrip workers.

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality would review and approve the plan. If the operators didn’t provide a plan, DEQ would be able to fine them.

Colstrip 1 and 2 must close no later than 2022, after the plant owners reached a settlement last year in a federal lawsuit by the Montana Environmental Information Center and the Sierra Club.

Ankney argued that the fate of Colstrip had been largely determined by policy decisions outside Montana, and that SB 338 was a way for the state to have a say in what comes next.

“Montana has one chance, one last chance, to get it right,” said Ankney.

Supporters of SB 338 say the companies have a responsibility to help Colstrip deal with the closure of Units 1 and 2. Those who testified in favor of the bill Thursday included representatives from Gov. Steve Bullock and Attorney General Tim Fox’s offices, as well as labor groups and residents of Colstrip.

Lori Shaw, the co-founder of the group Colstrip United, said the bill would give the community more time to adjust to the loss of the two generating units.

“The news of their closure broke in July of 2016,” Shaw said. “That was less than a year ago, and I think a lot of people forget that it’s been such a short time. And honestly, my community is still reeling from it.”

But the bill also drew opposition from Colstrip plant owners who said it unfairly punished companies for making a legal, economically justifiable decision, as well as taxpayer and business groups who said it would make it harder to attract other companies to Montana.

Jon Metropoulos, representing Talen Energy, said, if the bill passes, it might actually encourage the company to close Colstrip 1 and 2 earlier than 2022.

“The passage of punitive legislation only leads the decision-makers at Talen to think, ‘Why should we sink more money here? Why should we desperately try to stay?’” said Metropoulos.

Anne Hedges, deputy director of the Montana Environmental Information Center, also opposed the bill. She denied that her group’s lawsuit was the main reason Colstrip 1 and 2 were closing, arguing the units were outdated and no longer economically viable. She also echoed concerns that SB 338 could lead companies to pull out of Units 1 and 2 early, saying that would make it far more difficult to complete environmental cleanup at the plant site.

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

SB 338 is part of a package of three bills intended to address the closure of Colstrip 1 and 2. Ankney is also sponsoring Senate Bill 339, which would establish a process for the operators to submit an environmental cleanup plan. House Speaker Austin Knudsen of Culbertson is sponsoring House Bill 585, offering low-interest loans to Talen to encourage them to keep the units operating through 2022.

SB 339 is scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday. HB 585 will be heard in the House Energy, Technology and Federal Relations Committee on Monday.

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