Baucus Issues Montana Energy Priorities to President

By Beacon Staff

Montana’s senior U.S. Sen. Max Baucus is responding to the Obama administration’s new policy on climate change by issuing a list of his 15 energy priorities in the state.

Baucus is asking President Barack Obama to consider Montana as the administration develops its policy to deal with climate change.

The president has said rules are needed to curb greenhouse gases.

Baucus sent a letter to Obama on Tuesday asking him to reach out to individual states and avoid a one-size-fits-all solution. He outlined 15 priorities for Montana.

The senator says the president should approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline that runs through Montana, upgrade electric transmission lines to export energy, improve carbon sequestration, better harvest trees in national forests, and other priorities.

Baucus says warmer weather is already causing issues in Montana like earlier spring runoff and decreased snowpack. But he says climate change must be deal with in a way that promotes jobs.

“I urge you to reach out early and often to the states. One-size-fits-all solutions do not work in the energy sector,” Baucus wrote to the President. “When it comes to energy: Montana has it all, and it’s important that any national policy on climate change is responsive to Montana’s unique landscape. The priorities outlined below are a reflection of Montana’s strong commitment to protecting our outdoor heritage while developing Montana’s energy potential and supporting jobs.”

Click here to read Baucus’ letter to Obama.

Here’s Baucus’s priorities with the senator’s explanations that his staff provided:

Approve the Keystone XL Pipeline
In your remarks, you said that the pipeline should be built “only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.” The State Department, in the third draft environmental impact statement it has completed in five years for the pipeline, concluded that “there would be no substantive change in global greenhouse gas emissions” associated with the pipeline. By your own standard, there are no more excuses left. It is time to build the pipeline and get Montanans to work.

Upgrade the Montana-to-Washington Transmission Line
Wind power in Montana faces a transmission trap. One immediate source of relief would be to upgrade the existing 30-year-old 500-kilovolt transmission line from Colstrip to Washington. This upgrade involves no new lines, but in one fell swoop it would make possible 600 megawatts of new wind power in Montana. The Bonneville Power Administration needs to review the environmental impacts of adding a single substation, but there is no firm timetable for completing this modest review. You should prioritize this review for completion by the middle of 2014.

Fund Carbon Sequestration
I applaud the $8 billion loan guarantee solicitation you have announced for advanced fossil energy projects. But don’t forget existing projects. Montana has a cutting edge project run by researchers at Montana State University to demonstrate carbon sequestration on a million-ton scale. Yet your budget this year threatened to cut the legs out from under this and other regional demonstration projects by slashing sequestration funding by 43 percent and shifting it to carbon capture projects. That is a recipe to cut out coal states like Montana from our energy future. You should fix that.

Cut Red Tape for Carbon Sequestration Permits
The Environmental Protection Agency has created a long list of regulations under the Safe Drinking Water Act in anticipation of widespread commercial carbon sequestration. It is good the agency is ahead of the curve in protecting groundwater. But EPA is also jeopardizing the viability of federally-funded projects like Montana State’s Kevin Dome project by insisting that small non-commercial demonstration projects follow the same stringent rules. You should fix that.

Manage our Forests
You noted that America’s forests play a critical role in removing nearly 12 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions each year but face increased risks from wildfire and pests. You have called for sustainable management. Yet your budget this year called for slashing the hazardous fuels program by $116 million dollars. Montana’s mills are facing a supply crisis because of injunctions on federal harvests. The lack of management is directly resulting in overgrown, beetle-vulnerable, and fire-prone forests. Among the most important actions you can take to keep our forests absorbing greenhouse gases is to fund hazardous fuels removal and support Congressional efforts to reduce litigation. The poster child for out of control forest litigation nationally is the Colt Summit project in western Montana — a modest 2,000-acre federally-funded restoration project that has been blocked in court after years of local collaborative planning.

Finalize a Common Sense Biogenic Emissions Rule
In 2011, in response to me and several other senators, EPA delayed for three years the application of any greenhouse gas permitting requirements to facilities that use biomass, like sawmills that use wood residue to fire their boilers. The premise of the exemption is simple. Once we use up a fossil fuel, it is gone for good. Once we use up a tree, another one grows back. Just as we need our farmers to grow our next energy crops, we need some forests to be a source of carbon-neutral fuel. I urge you finalize a rule by next summer that recognizes on a nationwide basis the contribution forests can make to reducing emissions.

Stop Discriminating Against Montana Wood in Federal Procurement
Federal agencies appropriately attempt to buy materials that conserve energy and reduce waste. Yet one widespread non-governmental standard, “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design” (LEED), fails to recognize the environmental benefits of using American wood products in new buildings. LEED has produced innovative, energy-conserving buildings, yet it has failed in this crucial respect. Federal agencies need to stop shunning Montana wood products because of LEED’s limited standards.

Finalize a Biofuel Pathway for Barley
I agree that we need our farmers to grow the next generation of energy crops. The promise of the Renewable Fuels Standard that Congress created in 2005 — homegrown fuel that will reduce our dependency on oil from unstable and hostile nations — will remain unfulfilled until EPA approves more crops to meet the standard. You can immediately help Montana farmers by adding barley to the list of approved crops that already includes wheat and camelina.

Focus Federal Management in the Bakken on Responsible Oil and Gas Production
Your action plan emphasizes that the interagency Bakken Federal Executive Group is working with industry “to advance the production of oil and gas in the Bakken while helping to reduce venting and flaring.” I appreciate that you have put together a high-level team in response to my Call to Action in the Bakken on January 31, 2012. Your team can learn from companies like G2G Solutions out of Billings that have made methane capture profitable in the Bakken. It should also carefully review the BLM’s draft Miles City, Hi-Line, and Billings Resource Management Plans to ensure that federal minerals contribute to our growing energy security. Forty-two percent of the mineral estate in the eastern quarter of Montana is managed by the BLM. Bakken oil production can reduce the energy penalty of imported oil: the Department of Energy has calculated that moving crude oil by ocean tanker to U.S. ports requires 35 percent more energy than moving U.S. oil domestically. And don’t forget that the Keystone XL pipeline will carry at least 100,000 barrels of Bakken oil.

Retrofit Montana’s Non-Powered Dams
One perfect place to start funding electric power turbines at existing, non-powered dams is the Crow Reservation. Congress authorized the installation of turbines at the Yellowtail Afterbay Dam in 2010 as part of a settlement of the Crow’s reserved water rights. You can immediately help the Crow Nation implement its water rights, diversify its economy, and generate clean power by funding the next phase of the study to design the retrofit. Montana as a whole offers at least 68 megawatts of untapped capacity at existing dams. Bureau of Reclamation facilities alone offer 33 megawatts of untapped capacity.

Support the SAFE Act
The attention you have focused on preparing for climate change impacts, like severe flooding and extreme drought, is entirely appropriate. The Government Accountability Office noted in two recent reports completed at my request that we face incredible challenges to maintain assets like roads, bridges, wildlife refuges, and national parks. A bill I reintroduced last month, the Safeguarding America’s Future and the Environment Act (the SAFE Act), provides federal managers with the tools they need to adapt to climate change. I urge you to support the bill.

Make Adaptation Toolkits Usable
I applaud your intent to create “toolkits” for federal employees to respond more effectively to events like more intense storms and earlier snowmelt. I urge you to ensure these toolkits provide concrete ways to produce immediate results. For example, Montana has seen cheap but incredibly useful results from mapping the channel migration zones of our rivers. Any federal efforts should replicate this state success.

Help Congress Pass WRDA
I have passed eight Water Resource Development Acts (WRDA) in my tenure in the Senate. Among many projects, these bills have authorized the Corps of Engineers to rebuild the Bureau of Reclamation’s Intake Diversion Dam, spend $75 million on drinking water and wastewater plants in Montana, construct the fish hatchery at Fort Peck Lake, and resolve cabin ownership at the C. M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge. In May, the Senate passed a new WRDA that includes a program to fund projects, such as floodplain easements, that reduce the impacts of drought and floods in Montana. I urge you to work with us to enact this bill.

Create a Regional Climate Hub in Montana
The university system in Montana is a natural fit for one of the science hubs you plan to create. As a land-grant college with an energy research institute, a prominent agricultural experiment station and extension service, and a bioenergy center at its Havre campus, Montana State University is already conducting cutting edge climate research. Likewise, the University of Montana has world-class forestry and environmental studies programs with a renowned biological field station on Flathead Lake and additional applied research at its campus in Butte.

Press for Full Funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF)
Good conservation can also be good climate adaptation. For example, protecting a city’s drinking water supply now with a conservation easement is cheaper than trying to undo development later when less water is available. Species vulnerable to reduced snowpack, like cutthroat trout and wolverines, benefit from consolidating checkerboard land ownership. LWCF makes both of these possible. It deserves your continued support to receive the full funding intended by Congress.

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