Missoulian: Senators tout Montana benefits of coming energy bills

Two bills up for votes in the U.S. Senate next week contain a lot of money for Montana’s power production sector.

Montana senators Steve Daines and Jon Tester each said the 2017 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act and the 2016 Energy Policy Modernization Act will bring assistance to both state programs and energy issues that Montana has a stake in.

The 2017 appropriations bill would allocate $37.5 billion for the Department of Energy and the Army Corps of Engineers. It cleared the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday with a nearly unanimous approval.

Direct Montana projects in the bill include funds for the $4.6 million for Fort Peck/Dry Prairie Rural Water System, $3.7 million for the Rocky Boy/North Central Rural Water System construction through the Bureau of Reclamation, $12.8 million for the Crow Tribe’s water settlement agreement, $5.5 million for the Fort Peck Dam and $2 million for the Libby Dam.

It also features $21 million for construction and maintenance of the Lower Yellowstone Irrigation Project, and funds for operating watercraft inspection stations that prevent invasive species from infecting Montana lakes and rivers.

Daines said Montana’s coal industry could benefit from more wide-ranging allocations. For example, the bill would spend $377 million on carbon capture and storage technology for new and existing power plants, including Montana’s coal-fired generation facilities. It also would prod the U.S. Corps of Engineers to finish environmental reviews of the Gateway Pacific export terminal, which is intended to provide an overseas outlet for Montana and Wyoming coal. Energy independence programs would receive $11.2 billion to encourage economic competitiveness across the U.S. energy industry.

Hydropower and renewable energy programs would receive $25 million, including a $3.9 million program to add hydropower production to 80,000 dams and conduits that currently lack generation capacity. Tester said the bill provides about $70 million for geothermal energy and $80 million for wind energy improvements.

The bill may face a number of floor amendments, including efforts to defund President Barack Obama’s Clean Water Rule, and to provide more money for wind energy and clean energy research. Those votes would take place before the full Senate vote next week.

“Made-in-Montana energy means good-paying Montana jobs,” Daines said in an email comment. “Through provisions I’ve secured, Montana can lead the world in developing energy resources that will power not only our state, but the country and the world.”

“Investing in rural water infrastructure is critical to the health of our families, communities, and state,” Tester added in an email. “These projects will strengthen rural economies while ensuring access to clean water.”

The 2016 Energy Policy act includes time extensions for federal projects at Gibson Reservoir and Clark Canyon Reservoir. It also proposes permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a National Park Service maintenance and revitalization conservation fund and a historic preservation fund.