Remember when our country had an “all of the above” energy policy? Man, how times change in a hurry. The outright war on coal being waged by the Obama administration and the radical EPA has taken our country from a trend of energy independence to one where many experts worry we could experience periodic blackouts.
Montana is unfortunate to occupy an especially bad spot in the president’s plan to fundamentally redesign how Americans get energy. The president has chosen to implement a winners and losers strategy. Anything that involves coal is definitely a loser. With Montana’s economic dependence on coal, all Montanans are going to feel the pinch.
At this point it’s unclear whether our major generating facility, Colstrip, will continue to operate. Obama’s environmental cheer squad is certainly clamoring for Colstrip to be shut down.
For Colstrip to get tossed on the scrap heap would be an economic disaster. The economic activity created by Colstrip supports nearly 5,000 jobs and is one of the largest economic drivers in Montana, contributing almost $700 million to our economic output annually.
Colstrip is the largest source of the electricity used by Montanans. For decades Colstrip has provided low-cost, reliable electricity that powers agriculture, industry, commerce, and our homes. Losing Colstrip means most Montanans will pay a lot more for their energy. In addition, taking plants like Colstrip off the grid brings into question the reliability of 24/7 energy delivery that we’re accustomed to.
I’ve seen too many environmentalists claim that the president’s plan will create jobs in Montana. Supposedly, by destroying jobs related to coal, we can generate new jobs in wind and solar. In economics, this is known as the broken window fallacy – it’s like saying an economy can create jobs by paying some people to break windows and other people to fix them. It looks like people are employed, but of course breaking and fixing windows doesn’t create economic growth.
The president’s plan doesn’t create new jobs. It just replaces existing jobs with hollow promises. The infrastructure we’ve created around mining, transporting, and burning coal for electricity supports thousands of workers. Wind and solar don’t require the same types of manpower; they rely on technology (which is why they’re more expensive).
As the adage goes “wind turbines don’t have parking lots.” A 300 MW wind farm would requires 16 to 18 full-time employees. A similarly sized coal generator employs more than ten times that many.
Losing Colstrip and reducing the amount of coal mined in Montana would create a huge hole in our tax base. The president’s plan will result in a combination of state budget cuts and potentially huge increases in property taxes on Montana homeowners and small businesses. Colstrip alone accounts for about $115 million in annual tax collections; the mining industry for hundreds of millions more.
You have to ask, why are we doing this? Why are we self-inflicting wounds to the sector of our economy that supplies energy to every other sector of our economy?
We had it right before. America needs to get serious about an all-of-the-above energy policy. And that’s not to say that we shouldn’t address climate change—we need to be the world leader in developing the clean coal tech that will solve this problem.
The president’s energy plan is incredibly destructive and it needs to be stopped. It is important that we contact our congressman and both U.S. senators, tell them to make some noise. It is very important that our governor and attorney general file a lawsuit against the EPA. I hope you’ll join me in trying to save Colstrip and the Montana economy.
Duane Ankney represents Senate District 20, which includes Colstrip. He is the vice chairman of the Senate Energy Committee.
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