Roll Call: Daines Pitches Montana Energy Jobs

No one will mistake Sen. Steve Daines’ spring recess for a vacation.

Some 2,000 miles from Capitol Hill, the Republican from Montana led an energy summit for about 600 people that featured executives from major transportation and energy industries and groups, as well as state and federal officials.

“We need more made in America energy, not more made in the Middle East energy. And we don’t need these Washington, D.C., regulations that are defining our future here in Montana instead of letting Montanans define that,” Daines said in opening Montana Energy 2016, previewing what would be a recurring theme.

“It’s actually quite unique and innovative,” Daines said of the summit in an interview. “It requires a lot of effort on behalf of the staff to pull this off. But, you know starting with having a lineup of national, national thought leaders in energy who have come to Montana to be with us for two days, as well as Montanans who are thought leaders in energy, but this is something we spent probably the last six months planning for it.”

The senator’s staff worked for six months to put the event together, which featured senior executives from energy companies, BNSF, as well as public officials like Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Norman Bay.

Karen Alderman Harbert, the president and CEO of the Institute for 21st Century Energy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, presented on efforts of the chamber and other organizations to push back against regulations like the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. The Supreme Court has stayed the implementation of the plan due to pending litigation.

And Montana Attorney General Tim Fox is among those who have joined in on the lawsuits.

“This is the most litigated piece of environmental legislation, or rule making in the history of our country, so ‘bit of a reach’ is probably an understatement,” Fox said.

The final version of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, unveiled last August, is an aggressive attempt by the administration to reduce carbon emissions. But implementation has been held up after the Supreme Court granted a stay in February.

Fox spoke to the concerns for those people who work in the energy industry, as well as for investors, from the uncertainty about the legal fate of the EPA’s actions.

“Certainly with the eight-member court that we have now, if we were to get up to the Supreme Court and have a decision that was a 4-4 split, then whoever won at the Circuit Court of Appeals would have essentially won the case,” Fox said during a panel discussion. “Now, it won’t be a nationwide application of the rule, whether or not that really matters for the EPA in this case remains to be seen.”

The high court stay in February came just days before the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, creating the even split.

Fox said that even beyond the question of who the ninth member of the Supreme Court will be, there’s considerable interest in the outcome of the presidential election.

“Well certainly, whether or not we get a president of a different mind next year could have some bearing on this because these rules could be withdrawn. So, that’s a possibility,” Fox said.

On Friday, a bipartisan contingent of more than 200 current and former lawmakers, including 44 senators, filed an Amicus brief in support of the Clean Power Plan. The challenge in question is before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

“The Clean Air Act was written precisely to empower the Environmental Protection Agency to take bold, urgent action to combat pollution that threatens the health of our communities and the future of our planet. In the face of record droughts, climbing asthma rates and surging oceans, there can be no question: the damage of carbon pollution jeopardizes the health of our children, the strength of our economy and the security of our nation,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Friday.

Before convening the energy summit in Montana, Daines toured his state’s varied energy resources, including a power generating station in Colstrip that a University of Montana study referenced during the event that suggests could be closed as a result of emissions targets under the EPA’s plan.

“Montana has some of the lowest wages on average in the country, but energy jobs pay two to three times more than our state average. So this is how Montanans can keep their kids in the state,” Daines said in the interview. “We say our three key exports here are our cattle, our grain and our kids.”