The Roundup -

Fossil Fueled Counties Meet For Convention In Lewistown


Duane Ankney, Colstrip, speaks during the Montana Association of Oil, Gas and Coal Counties meeting in Lewistown. (Submitted, Jessica Sena)

On June 21, commissioners from Blaine, Carbon, Carter, Dawson, Fallon, Fergus, Garfield, McCone, Musselshell, Phillips, Pondera, Prairie, Richland, Roosevelt, Rosebud, Sheridan, Toole, Wibaux and Yellowstone counties met in Lewistown for the annual meeting of the Montana Association of Oil, Gas, and Coal Counties.

The ironic lack of representation from Petroleum County is somewhat indicative of the current state of oil and gas development in Montana.

In addition to the attending commissioners were a handful of hopefuls for elected office including current Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney; Republican Lt. Gov. candidate and former Phillips County Commissioner Lesley Robinson; State Auditor and candidate for Secretary of State, Monica Lindeen; and Kristen Gustafson Juras who is running for Supreme Court.

On the agenda this year, with Chair Richard Dunbar of Phillips County presiding, was an update on the Clean Power Plan (CPP) by the state's coal miner senator, Duane Ankney. Ankney reported that the previously stayed CPP will be heard in the District Court of Appeals in late September, with a decision predicted sometime early next year.

"No doubt we'll get some of it," said Ankney, referring to the reduction in carbon emissions mandated by the Obama administration. Montana was hit the hardest, with a reduction requirement of 47 percent; a target larger than any other state.

"Blue collared working people are probably the most endangered species there is today," said Ankney, who explained that if Colstrip power plants 1 and 2 are shuttered, power prices will increase 20 percent, and directly impact between 1,000 and 1,500 Montana employees of industrial consumers which rely on power from Colstrip.

Those customers include REC Silicone and Montana Resources' open pit copper and molybdenum mine in Butte, refineries, and cement plants in central Montana.

Diminished coal production has already taken a toll on Montana's economy, including hits to the general fund and other accounts. The coal trust is down $2 dollars, and other reductions have been seen in the long-range planning budget, state parks account, and the Renewable Resource Grant and Loan Program. The public and private renewable resource loan programs are funded through coal severance tax bonds.

"Coal actually pays for personal renewable projects," said Ankney.

Following Ankney was Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney. He touted Montana's economy and low unemployment rate of 4.2 percent, and described energy production as a job creator. Cooney said that he and Gov. Bullock support responsible development, and aim to address climate change without compromising development.

Richard Dunbar announced that MAOGCC will once again carry a pro-Keystone XL resolution to a meeting of the National Association of Counties in July.

Robert Latimer in Community Relations for TransCanada provided an update on the Keystone XL pipeline, explaining that the Keystone pipeline has already moved 1.2 billion barrels of crude from Canada into U.S. markets. The XL pipeline, which would run through Montana, has failed to gain the approval of the Obama Administration, in spite of the fact that the State Department concluded it would not exacerbate emissions or climate impacts.

Latimer stated TransCanada has 100 percent of landowners in Montana, nearly 100 percent in South Dakota, and 90 percent in Nebraska on board with secured easements, should the pipeline be approved.

"The U.S. uses 7 million barrels of oil a day," said Latimer.

If the XL pipeline is approved, it will have a daily capacity for 100,000 barrels of Bakken (Williston Basin) crude. Transportation by pipeline is far more economical than transport by rail, and far safer than crude by rail.

Legally, TransCanada is considering possible arbitration through the North American Free Trade Agreement, as well as citing an intrusion on congressional power, and government overreach in the decision to disapprove the pipeline's construction. The company is seeking a declaration that the judgement was without merit.

The company continues to engage the public, and works regularly with first responders in Montana in conjunction with the Montana Oil and Gas Pipelines Association.

Mark Bostrom, DNRC Division Administrator, gave an update on the Sage Grouse Oversight Team (MSGOT). The program has not yet developed a Habitat Quantification Tool to assess how projects, which cannot avoid impacts in sage grouse habitat, will be debited and credited through compensatory mitigation. Until an HQT is developed, MSGOT may only expend half of the $10 million appropriated to the plan to facilitate "free-market mechanisms for voluntary, incentive-based conservation efforts."

As for the effect of BLM Resource Management Plans (RMPs) on the state plan, Bostrom said, "the RMPs will change nothing."

He covered the exemptions, including county road maintenance, certain DEQ and DOL permits.

At the last meeting of MSGOT, a categorical exclusion was carved out for development proposals within incorporated cities.

In 2020, the USFWS will review the effectiveness of state plans to preserve sage grouse habitat and populations.

Bostrom added that should the Keystone XL pipeline be approved, it would be exempt from going through MSGOT for review because it was previously permitted at the state level through the Montana Major Facility Siting Act.

Former Phillips County Commissioner Lesley Robinson addressed attendees about her candidacy for Lieutenant Governor on the campaign trail with Republican Greg Gianforte.

"I promise I will bring your voice to Helena," said Robinson. She explained that her role, should Gianforte win in November, would be as a liaison from ag groups, rural Montana, and state government, to the governor's office.

State Auditor Monica Lindeen is running for Secretary of State. The self-proclaimed "eastern Montana girl" said, "I've voted for every oil, gas, coal, and timber lease since I've been on the Land Board." Lindeen, who served four terms in the state House of Representatives serving the district now represented by Ankney, said that the biggest issue facing Montana is the future of Colstrip.

She's running for SOS to ensure voter access and improve the voting process to make it easier and less cumbersome, especially for local government.


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