Pass Strong Energy and Climate Legislation This Year

By Beacon Staff

The U.S. Senate has an opportunity to revive Montana’s – and the nation’s – economy with thousands of new jobs, create clean and affordable sources of power for our homes and businesses, and end billions of dollars going to foreign countries for oil.

Our Senators returned to Washington to take up comprehensive climate and energy legislation, a version of which has already passed the House. The health care debate should not prompt them to sidestep this important work; passage of a strong climate bill this year is crucial to Montana’s future.

Leaders from across the spectrum understand that our economic health is tied to our leadership on clean energy. Solutions to global warming offer rare economic opportunities, as well.

The legislation passed by the House is a good start. It puts billions of dollars into spurring energy efficiency improvements and renewable energy development in resources Montana has in abundance: wind, sun and biofuels.

Wind is a homegrown energy source that can strengthen our economy. According to a new Harvard University Study published in July in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, we’re tied for second in wind power potential – enough to provide for all of our needs and much of the West’s. But we’re only 18th in actually harnessing the wind. 

Strong policies that provide incentives for clean energy investments will allow us to realize our potential, creating an estimated 6,000-plus new jobs here in just a few years, substantially more than the 1,500 or so coal-related jobs in the state. Nationally, investments in wind and solar power create nearly three times as many jobs as the same investments in coal. These jobs are good secure work – employing a range of skills at good wages. With the right incentives, manufacturing and construction employment can surge as Montana workers build and maintain turbines and upgrade our transmission infrastructure.

Farmers also benefit: a typical 2,000-acre farm can earn over $100,000 in annual lease payments from wind energy production alone. A well-designed cap-and-invest system for reducing pollution would create another major source of income for farmers and ranchers, who could sell valuable carbon emission “offsets” for pollution-reducing activities such as improved farming methods and conservation set-asides. The USDA is convinced these will earn farmers money, more than offsetting any potential for future short-term energy cost increases. 

The best way to reduce our dependence on fossil fuel energy is to use less. The House legislation greatly expands energy efficiency programs and would put Montanans to work retrofitting homes and businesses, designing more efficient industries, and creating innovations to do more with less energy. Consumers, farmers, business people, communities – all of us—benefit from energy efficiency. With the right investments now including programs to protect low-income consumers, our electricity bills will be lower because we’ll waste less energy. 

Climate change is already happening here, accelerated mainly by our fossil fuels use. It’s affecting key engines of our economy. Glaciers – our natural water storage tanks – are shrinking, as well as our once abundant snowpack, threatening the water needed for farming, ranching, and our $300 million fishing and $3 billion tourism and recreation industries. Increased droughts and insect infestations also hurt our economy.

Its time to move to cleaner, less harmful energy sources by passing a national energy policy that puts a strong cap on carbon emissions while providing incentives and investments in clean energy. This would create new markets for Montana, spur clean energy research by our universities and investments and job growth in new technologies and businesses. It rewards utilities and customers for investing in clean energy and Montana industries that invest in energy efficiencies to stay competitive.

Strong climate and clean energy legislation faces a close vote in the Senate. Leadership of our two senators is crucial. As leaders, we encourage them to pass legislation now that addresses the issue of climate change straight on and sets a course that can swiftly move us toward a clean energy future — a future in which all Montanans can reap rewards.

Including Len Ford, of Ford Construction in Kalispell, over 80 Montana business leaders delivered a letter to Sens. Baucus and Tester asking them to pass strong energy and climate legislation this year.”

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