Thursday, March 24, 2011

An occasion for coal

Posted on Thu, Mar 24, 2011 at 4:00 AM

The heartbreaking tragedy in Japan has rightly brought concerns with nuclear energy into the public debate. And with those concerns with nuclear safety, some are predicting that we will see a greater interest in coal-fired energy.

While it’s true that coal demand will rise as nuclear becomes less popular, that increased interest in coal will also result in obstructionists becoming even more aggressive in trying to stop coal production. While coal power plants are safer and new technology has reduced the environmental impact of coal, their opponents never fail to seize on an opportunity to advance their agenda. If coal moves up the list of preferred energy sources, the stakes for the obstructionists get bigger.

Montana is incredibly well positioned to be a world leader in coal production. We lag woefully behind Wyoming in the amount of coal we dig, and some estimates indicate Montana has a 600-year supply at our current rate of extraction. So with all that potential in the ground, you can be assured that Montana will also be at the center of the obstructionists’ attempts to stop energy development.

One of my proudest accomplishments during my tenure in Congress was securing the Otter Creek coal tracts for Montana. Otter Creek represents a huge potential for new jobs and a tremendous amount of tax revenue for the state. And now we’re on the cusp of finally developing Otter Creek, but we’re also in danger of losing that opportunity if the opposition wins this fight. Attorney General Steve Bullock, who most Democrats predict will be their gubernatorial candidate next year, has sided with those opposing Otter Creek.

Montana has an enormous comparative advantage in natural resources, especially energy and particularly coal. Putting those resources to work is a clear path to increasing jobs, raising our per capita income, providing funding for education, and providing tax relief that will further fuel our economy. Our energy industry in Montana already provides thousands of jobs and contributes mightily to our tax base. But to grow means we need to expand our energy sector, through Otter Creek and elsewhere.

But there are those who would erect roadblocks on that path. This debate about Montana’s economic future is going to be one of the most important in recent history, and it’s about to heat up even more.

Rick Hill

Gubernatorial candidate

Helena

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