Let’s Take the Lead in Preparing a Responsible Future for Montana

You often hear a false choice – that we can either address climate change or continue to produce power from coal

By Steve Bullock

Montanans are proud of our contribution to the economic health of our region and the nation. The production and export of low-cost energy provides good-paying jobs for Montana workers. We are fortunate to have some of the nation’s largest coal reserves, highest-rated wind potential, and hydroelectric power. Producing energy is part of who we are as a state.

Coal production in Montana has been higher under my administration than any previous administration in our state’s history, helping hard-working Montana families make a living in the Big Sky State. While I’m proud of that fact, there are challenges on the horizon. The bankruptcy of Arch Coal sent tremors through the industry. Global coal markets are struggling, domestic energy demand is flat, cheap natural gas is reshaping our economy, and ratepayers across the Pacific Northwest are demanding renewable energy.

And then there are the concerns related to climate change. We know it is happening because we see it. Moreover, the financial markets are reacting.

We can sit around and try to score political points by assigning blame, or we can take the lead in preparing a responsible future for Montana – one that sparks a new generation of clean technology businesses, drives economic growth and creates thousands of good-paying jobs in Montana by modernizing power plants, moving us to more renewable energy, and encouraging innovation and energy efficiency.

You often hear a false choice – that we can either address climate change or continue to produce power from coal – but not both. I reject this choice.

Some might dismiss the debate over our energy future as just more election year fodder. But here’s why we can’t do that: time. While people argue and point fingers, the world moves forward. The only constant here is a changing market, and as the saying goes, you’re either driving the bus, or you’re under it.

Here are four very important realities:

  1. In every challenge there is opportunity – not just to keep the good jobs we have, but to create new jobs as well. For example:
  • After touring a coal power plant in nearby Saskatchewan that generates electricity while using its carbon emissions to improve oil production at a nearby oil field, I ramped up my efforts to see something like this happen in Montana;
  • My administration has been all in supporting a trailblazing project that will use hydropower to support the development of much more wind energy;
  • I’ve asked our state energy experts to analyze what we can do to support larger scale solar and geothermal installations in Montana. Solar energy also offers great promise for Indian Country, and I want to work with our tribal leaders to promote these opportunities.
  1. We must not overlook the simple solutions. The easiest way to reduce the impacts of energy is to use less of it. Not only is energy efficiency usually cheaper than developing new energy sources, it puts people to work in our homes and businesses and our electricity bills drop.
  2. States like Montana are the best laboratories for finding the path forward. What we need from Washington, D.C. is more incentives and less red tape. I asked Montana’s top business leaders what they thought we should do to improve our energy future, and they made several suggestions; including creating an energy infrastructure authority that develops energy opportunities and working with stakeholders to improve permitting. These are two good ideas of many. The future of energy development is shifting beneath our feet, and we must all work together to create a Montana-based plan to tap our full potential to harness jobs and power.
  3. We’re all in this together. I respect the right of other states to decide their energy futures but also recognize that energy flows across state lines. That’s why I worked closely with legislators from both parties in Washington State and here at home to make sure Montana had a voice in legislation affecting our energy production. Because of our work, it no longer directs a closure process for part of Colstrip. But I still asked Washington Governor Inslee to veto it because I think we can do better.

Our energy future is full of tall challenges. To meet them, I’ll continue working with energy leaders around the state to chart a path that doesn’t turn our back on the need to protect jobs in Colstrip, yet that also embraces the real promise of thousands of jobs in renewable energy, energy efficiency, and developing technologies we can adopt in Montana to better produce energy from traditional resources. It may not be as simple as a soundbite, but developing meaningful public policy rarely is.

When we do it right, we’ll be able to say we found the right balance: we protected our outdoors (and the tens of thousands of Montana jobs that rely on clean water, clean air and agriculture); we provided wealth to our citizens in the form of good jobs. When we do it right, we will be proud to pass on a Montana that is still the envy of the nation for our quality of life and economic stability.

My kids, your kids, and all children in every corner of this state deserve no less.

Steve Bullock is the first-term governor of Montana.

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