Lawmaker Blames GOP for Energy Policy’s Failure

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – State lawmakers failed to come up with a proposed energy policy over the legislative interim because of the Republican committee members’ denial of climate change, a Democratic senator said Friday.

Sen. Ron Erickson, of Missoula, told a group of industry leaders at Helena conference on Montana energy the science is clear, but that GOP resistance prevented the interim committee from forwarding a bill to the full Legislature.

“We had a really difficult time in the interim committee on energy. I will blame that on the fact that Republican members of that committee do not think that climate change is real, nor do they think that it is caused by man. And they are wrong,” Erickson said.

The Energy and Telecommunications Interim Committee dropped the proposed bill in September after members couldn’t reach consensus on language regarding fossil fuel resources for electricity generation, according to the committee’s letter to the Legislature. The committee also failed to reach a consensus on findings and recommendations for energy policy change.

Two House representatives and two senators, including Erickson, spoke on a conference panel about the state’s energy policy and what should be included in the policy in the 2011 Legislature.

Republican Rep. Harry Klock of Harlowtown, chairman of the House Federal Relations Energy and Telecommunications Committee, addressed Erickson’s charge directly.

“I believe in climate change. It changes every day out here. I just don’t believe in global warming,” he said.

But, he added, the energy policy update failed to pass only because the committee couldn’t agree on the wording of the bill.

He said he believes the House and Senate energy committees will come together this session to pass good legislation.

Erickson said he believes the state must sequester carbon from coal-fired plants and better enforce building codes to make structures more energy efficient. He also promoted a carbon tax, though acknowledged that was not something state legislators could do, and promoted the use of electric cars.

Republican Sen. Alan Olson, of Roundup, who is chairman of the Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee, said he did not want to enter an environmental or political debate, but noted the importance of coal in Montana’s history and economy.

The use of those fossil fuels, along with renewable energy such as wind, means Montana has the potential to supply a lot of energy to the western U.S.

“We’ve got the oil, we’ve got the gas, we’ve got the coal and we do have the wind resources,” he said. “But with that we need infrastructure development. Not just electrical transmission, we need pipelines, we need railroads.”

The other Democrat on the panel, Rep. Robyn Driscoll of Billings, said she believes this Legislature will pass a new energy policy that addresses both fossil fuels and renewable energy.

She agreed with Klock that language killed the bill and that the committee members “worked extremely well together.”

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