Much hubbub has been made recently in the press about the Public Service Commission’s decision to consider repealing what has come to be called the “PSC Executive Pay Rule” (see “Salary secrets,” April 11). Much of the commentary has been misleading, even downright inaccurate.
The commissioners need and want your input and feedback on the matter. I’ve outlined a number of issues for your consideration and hope you’ll take the time to call us or send your commissioner feedback.
One argument for repeal is that the Executive Pay Rule is duplicative, and simply repeats what is already in the state law (MCA 2-6-102) as well as the PSC’s rule (ARM 38.2.303). All utility information, including executive compensation is, even without the executive Pay Rule, public information and available to the public at the PSC unless a request for protection is requested and granted before we get it. We get relatively few of these requests. The Executive Pay Rule states that if the PSC has it, the compensation of the top three utility executives is public information unless a request for protection is requested and granted. But, that’s already the rule and law!
Are you in favor of having more rules even if they duplicate or restate other existing rules and laws, or should duplicative directives, such as the Executive Pay Rule, be repealed? Some claim that the Executive Pay Rule is not just a restatement of other existing law, that it does, in fact, change the law.
Some argue that the PSC does not, and should not, have the authority to make a new law, especially law or rules affecting constitutional rights. They argue that new law should only be made by the people or the legislature and not executive agencies. (Although some judges may argue they too have the power to make new law.) Should executive agencies have the authority to make new law, even if it affects your constitutional rights?
The PSC was immediately sued over the Executive Pay Rule. The pending lawsuit challenges the PSC’s authority to make such a one-size-fits-all rule that changes the balance between two competing constitutional mandates, in this instance the public right to know versus the individual right of privacy. Attorneys for the PSC say that based on existing Montana case law the Executive Pay Rule will probably not pass muster. Continued defense of this rule in the lawsuit, and the subsequent appeals, will cost tax and ratepayers a lot of money. Should the PSC continue to spend your money defending the Executive Pay Rule in court?
Regrettably, some people are always in re-election campaign mode. My predecessor, Ken Toole, who conceived and championed this toothless tiger rule for his 2010 PSC re-election campaign, has a reputation for costing tax payers big money in court defending poor choices. As he does all too often, one of my colleagues on the commission adopts Toole’s position and argues fervently in favor of the rule and for fighting for it in the courts. I said it in 2010: This issue is classic political ruse. Gin up a do-nothing but emotional issue or rule aimed at a group we all dislike. It makes for good headlines, generates lots of fighting, but really does absolutely nothing to make your government better. It works especially well when a politician needs to distract you from their actual work or voting record.
Public comment on this issue will be accepted through April 26. Tell us what you think. Contact your PSC Commissioner at (406) 444-6199 or at psc.mt.gov/.
Public Service Commission
Sen. Max Baucus responded to a constituent’s concern about gun violence as follows: “I oppose the assault weapons ban, and I will oppose any effort that would negatively affect our Second Amendment rights to keep and bear arms.”
When a society suffers a seemingly unending series of gun related mass murders—62 since August 1982—and when those mass murders include innocent men, women and children—Texas District Attorney Mike McLelland, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, and 20 Sandy Hook Elementary School students—it would seem inconceivable that anyone would stand in the way of taking steps to control this senseless killing.
It is interesting to note that a Wikipedia list of countries by firearm-related deaths ranks the U.S. at 57 out of 75 countries and dependencies. Yes, there are still 18 countries that have a higher firearm death rate than us, but those are countries like Colombia, Argentina, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Swaziland. Even Mexico ranks lower than us at 53. Canada ranks 43 and Great Britain, where gun control is taken seriously, ranks 5. Japan is No. 1 with with only 0.07 deaths per 100,000 compared to our 10.2 deaths per year. There is a good chance that national efforts at gun control have something to do with these statistics.
Baucus claims that he opposes an assault weapons ban based upon the Second Amendment. Keep in mind that this amendment was adopted in 1791—222 years ago. At that time a renegade government that intended to steal a “free state” from its citizens might well reconsider in the face of a citizenry armed with muskets. Today, a one-armed drone could probably deter such a citizen uprising. For better or worse, today, we must depend more on our electoral process to put morally responsible and socially aware individuals in positions of power.
idual would realize that times change. The keeping of slaves once stimulated the national economy, the woman’s vote was an unnecessary complication and prohibition of alcohol was to improve societal morals. The Second Amendment no longer protects us from government tyranny and it is being selfishly misrepresented. Perhaps it is time for a change.
I am a general medical practitioner with 30 years experience. I work in Emergency Medicine and with nursing home residents and incarcerated persons. I have two problems with the conduct of Dr. Eric Kress, who assisted three patient suicides, as described in Alex Sakariassen’s article (see “Cowardice to courage,” April 11) and in an editorial written by Kress. First, since when did assisted suicide become legal? Second, I have concerns about his cases.
Kress claims that his patients were not depressed. In his editorial, however, his description of one of those patients suggested otherwise. Someone who is “often … found weeping and bemoaning the miserable fate that had befallen him” sounds depressed. Similarly, in the article by Mr. Sakariassen, Kress is described as using a “one question” screening tool for depression (“If the disease were gone tomorrow, would the request for life-ending medication still stand”). Asking a single question hardly seems sufficient for a life-or-death decision. Of course, I do not know the medical facts of these cases; I do know that there were other options than committing suicide, whether or not they were explored.
Doctors diagnoses can also be wrong. I have seen patients in my own practice live longer than expected. With this situation, patients participating in medical suicides can be throwing away their lives. I have also seen suicidal people get better, and rebuild lives that looked pretty grim. I do not agree that doctors or anyone else should be assisting other people to commit suicide.
Carley C. Robertson
The Montana Legislature is continuing its naive campaign to undermine the development of new renewable energy resources in Montana. Montana’s Renewable Portfolio Standard has been the standard bearer over the last eight years that has compelled renewable energy development from a mere 2 megawatts before 2005 to over 600 megawatts today. A critical component of the Renewable Portfolio Standard requires that a portion of new renewable energy comes from projects that are community in nature. These projects—such as Diamond Willow Wind near Baker or the new Gibson Hydro Facility by Fairfield—offer an opportunity for communities and individuals to own renewable energy resources and to diversify the jobs and taxes created from projects across Montana. Like the Renewable Portfolio Standard, the utilities can seek an exemption if such projects are not feasible—as NorthWestern successfully did in 2012.
Current legislation, SB 125 sponsored by Sen. Olsen, undermines the standard by removing the penalty to the utility, making these projects effectively a suggestion. Not only is this detrimental to encouraging clean renewable energy, it is just bad legislating as it leaves the utility floating with a nebulous mandate. A better option, is for the legislature to evaluate the importance of community renewable energy, as part of Sen. Olson’s own omnibus study resolution, SJ 6, to look at the Renewable Portfolio Standard after 10 years. For these reasons, I encourage Gov. Bullock to veto SB 125.
Many Missoula residents wonder how the Maclay Bridge controversy matters to them. If they don’t live in the Target Range, Blue Mountain or Big Flat areas or haven’t attended any of the 2012-13 public meetings, it seems irrelevant.
However, this struggle is a community affair. Its essence is about character.
Nearly to a person, residents of Missoula and Missoula County are proud of where we live and work. We honor integrity in how we live together. We expect transparency from citizens and officials alike. We work together to make sure that these qualities continue to define our community. Perhaps this local controversy does matters to us all.
Although a city, Missoula is part of a rural county that applauds and enjoys its spectacular surroundings. Whether city or county, residents have a sense of place rooted in our history with three major rivers connecting us. We have defined ourselves by our open spaces and our desire to protect them.
As we grow, collectively we want to do it wisely with careful consideration to our special sense of place. Each public issue affects how our community changes, retaining the things we value like a small-town feel amid the incorporation of dynamic social trends.
Does having the only one-lane bridge in an urban area left in Montana over a famous Montana river matter to us? Do we think it helps define who we are and what we care about? Is the community’s character compromised if we replace rather than refurbish it? Do we feel that our active pace slows pleasantly if we let a member of our community pass first? Do we find that thoughtfulness feels good?
These are questions for each resident. This local controversy does matters to us all.
Our local and state officials are elected spokespersons for our community. Implicitly, we expect them to stand for the integrity we honor in each other and to display the same transparency with us that we do among ourselves.
Are they listening carefully to citizen comment? Are they forthcoming with why a large-volume bridge is needed there? Are they responding disproportionately to special interests? Are they planning to use taxpayer dollars wisely? Are they putting our money first where it is needed most? Are they strong stewards of our community character?
These questions affect all of us. How well a community works together tackling large or small challenges defines its character. Missoula city and county have a strong reputation to uphold.
All citizens should weigh in. Do we all benefit if a dialogue ensues? Teachers and students are included. Would a high school civics project enjoy a local issue with community impact?
Like democracy itself, our character is strengthened through challenge and specific issues. Personally, my day is better when I wave and smile at a neighbor alongside a defining river right here in River City.
I have just read Rep. Jonathan McNiven’s editorial in the Missoula Independent regarding the benefits of coal extraction and export to Asian markets (see “Coal is key,” in Letters, April 11). I am in utter disbelief of his globally selfish point of view. It is a fact: Coal is not clean energy and annually kills ten of thousands of innocents. I understand coal must be used in abundance for some time; however, as an elected official (and human being) it is McNiven’s duty to seek and promote the future development of clean forms of energy. In his editorial, he says nothing about promoting a future of clean energy use and the continued creation of related jobs in that sector, which in fact will serve Americans in a positive light. McNiven was elected to protect the health and well being of his constituents (China’s dirty air lands on our shores and kills thousand of their citizens). Montana’s unique landscape and waterways has been desecrated environmentally (Butte will most likely never recover) because of those who world rather create short-term employment and wealth for the few at any cost. To not explore the long-term ramifications of this lack of foresight is insane and selfish. If this extraction of coal comes to be, McNiven will have blood on his hands. China has taken our place in history (lack of air standards) as have many Asian countries. McNiven’s views promote this repulsive action. The harm that will come to so many world citizens surely outweigh the benefits regarding the burning of coal for America’s benefit. Let’s look ahead and protect all lands and air for all our world's future generations, promote clean energy and systematically reduce coal emissions. Expanding coal use is not a solution, it is a curse.
Recently in the news was this fact: In 2010, 1.2 million people died in China from air pollution alone. The question is: Could that happen here in this country? Would our government allow such a devastation of human life to occur without trying to protect its citizenry? Or would corporate greed buy its way into the Halls of Congress even more to limit regulation? Much of this air pollution is from the combustion of carbon-based fuels. In southeastern Montana there is a proposal to develop another coal mine called Otter Creek. This coal is designed to be transported to China as well as other Asian nations. Since coal burning in the U.S. is on the decline since 2007 by 14 percent, there is no need for the coal here. Not this coal, as it is of lesser grade than coal found elsewhere.
If allowed to proceed, not only would Montana be contributing to the death and destruction of China’s people, but we would be bringing negative impacts upon ourselves. Can Montana and the world actually accept the additional 2.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere from this one mine? For once it enters the atmosphere, it is global. Let’s think of the positive influence that Montana could have on meeting the world’s energy needs. Why should we sacrifice our own pristine land, water, air, wildlife and lifestyle for such a dirty, needless and unwanted alternative? Montana is better than this.
As the coal debate heats up on the West Coast, our state is left hoping and waiting for the approval of five proposed coal export terminals in the Pacific Northwest. Our state economy is closely connected with the coal industry—keenly feeling the ups and downs of this industry. And, right now, the proposed Pacific Northwest terminals will aid in supplying our state a new export market for sustained, long-term economic growth.
Montana has always had the largest coal reserve in the country with over 119 billion tons of coal—simply an unfathomable amount of coal that provides our state a built-in economic opportunity. At the moment, coal, directly and indirectly, provides almost 5,000 Montana family-wage jobs with a payroll of over $273 million. Our state has reaped the benefits of coal production; our unemployment rate is decidedly lower than the national average and our state has a budget surplus of $426 million. This financial well-being stems, in large part, from our coal industry. And, in order to keep this economic gain, the coal industry must continue to grow.
The five proposed Pacific Northwest terminals will aid our state in exporting coal to meet the growing global demand, which will ensure Montana continues our economic advantage.
The Asian markets are booming and their demand for coal is at an all-time high. Over the last decade, Japan, China, and South Korea have combined to consume over 5 billion short tons worth of coal; during that time, Asia’s share of global coal rose from 24 percent to 63 percent. The Asian markets have an overwhelming demand for affordable energy, which we could supply. With uncertain domestic coal markets, the industry will rely on exports for future growth.
Our state has already seen the consequences of smaller industry investment. Although Montana has the highest coal reserves, we rank fifth in coal production. With new investments and the promise of export capabilities, Montana could increase production—leading to greater job creation and even more tax revenue.
Since our economy—and indeed, the economies of our neighbors in the region as well—is so closely connected with the coal industry, a rise in production will indirectly aide other industries, too. For example, our coal companies will send the coal to Oregon and Washington by rail, so the subsequent uptick in rail will not only benefit the rail companies, but the other industries that use the railways and depend on reliable infrastructure. In our state, any gain for the coal industry will be a gain for our total economy.
In light of the tremendous these tremendous opportunities, both chambers of the Montana Legislature have passed a resolution calling for increased production and export of coal. Last week, in show of bipartisanship, the Senate passed the resolution 41-8. With the fate of these proposed export terminals yet to be decided, it’s important for all Montanans to sound the rallying cry in favor of new port construction.
With the most coal reserves, a production rate that could be increased, lawmakers that “get it,” and a growing global demand for our commodity, Montana is at the forefront of a sizable economic boom. The Pacific Northwest terminals will provide the platform to boost our state’s economic development.
Rep. Jonathan McNiven
Anyone concerned with increased train traffic, expanded West Coast ports or the industrialization of eastern Montana should cross their fingers and hope that the Department of Environmental Quality decides not to permit the mining of Otter Creek coal.
The Otter Creek mine is the largest proposed coal mine in the lower 48 states. Though the coal is located in southeastern Montana, it is destined for Asian countries where cleaner energy sources are not yet in high demand. For transportation purposes, the mine’s approval would strongly influence the construction of the Tongue River Railroad and the expansion of various ports along the Pacific coast. Though presented to the public as three separate projects, the development of the Otter Creek mine, the construction of the Tongue River Railroad and the expansion of West Coast ports are interconnected undertakings. These three destructive projects are actually segments of a larger strategy for out-of-state coal companies to make money by convincing Montana agencies to allow our state to become a coal colony for China.
If Otter Creek Valley is overrun by Arch Coal, Montanans will suffer the endless effects of air pollution, aquifer depletion, property value loss and misdirected tax dollars. Eastern Montana’s most prosperous agricultural region should not be sacrificed for temporary corporate gain. The hazardous implications associated with private and public agencies’ elaborate plan to mine and transport Otter Creek coal are not worth the risks. I hope state agencies set higher standards for the uses of Montana’s natural resources.
Mary Ellen Wolfe
It’s disappointing that the legislature tabled Senate Bill 295, the bill to repeal the oil and gas tax holiday. Had it passed, the bill would have provided millions in new revenue to communities in eastern Montana that are facing major infrastructure expenses due to the oil boom.
Now, instead of generating new funds to address the impacts, the legislature is moving forward proposals that raid the general fund. All of the remaining bills that are still moving forward take this approach. Why are we giving the oil and gas industry a break while simultaneously taking general fund money that could go to essential services such as education and health care?
The industry is creating the impacts, and oil prices are at their highest in decades. There is no doubt that oil companies are making good money. North Dakota and Wyoming both have higher tax rates than we do.
It simply is not fair for Montana taxpayers to pay for industry-generated impacts because the oil and gas companies don’t want to pay their fair share.
I think the legislature needs to really think through the implications of raiding the general fund. Who will benefit? Will it be the taxpayers or the industry? Maybe we should reconsider SB 295.