This is a defining moment for Democrats in Montana, not to mention their Republican counterparts.
Later this week, the Montana Senate will hear Senate Bill 338 in committee. This legislation holds massive companies accountable for their actions by requiring them to cover the decommissioning costs associated with closing a major power plant, like the two units in Colstrip. Senate Bill 338 is reasonable and prudent. It even allows companies like Talen Energy and Puget Sound Energy, which own the units, to submit their own estimates on cost.
Don’t trust me? Well, even a wonky free-market Republican like Travis Kavulla understands the justifications for passing this bill.
When the Colstrip station closes, barring a miracle, the community is going to become a shell of its former self. The power plant’s place in that community makes Malmstrom Air Force Base’s place in Great Falls look small. A plant closure means an instant reduction in property values, a cost shift to the remaining taxpayers in the county, and a lot of stranded assets in the form of local government projects that still have outstanding balances on their bond arrangements…
Up until just a year ago, one of the Colstrip plant owners, Puget Sound Energy, which is the electric utility for the metro Seattle area, was singing its praises, suggesting it was one of its cheapest resources. That ended the day when the Sierra Club and Puget, and also Talen Energy, signed an agreement to close Units 1 and 2 of the facility by mid-2022 instead of facing further litigation over ash ponds near the property. For companies like Puget Sound Energy, that’s all fine. They stand to get all the money they need to close and all the money the need to build a new power plant.
The fact of the matter is that Colstrip, Montana has been in a rough spot for years. Uncertainty has stalled the local economy and caused indescribable anxiety for the people who live there. Things are about to get worse.
Liberal blogger James Conner of the Flathead Memo makes the point better than I ever could:
It’s wrong to let coal companies strip the wealth from the earth, wrecking the landscape and despoiling land and water, without requiring that they invest in the rehabilitation of the communities and workers’ lives their greed has impacted. Instead of letting Talon, et al, take the money and run, Montana should take money from Talon before running Talon out of the state.
Have we not learned from the environmental, economic, and human disasters that followed the corporate greed and exits of our past? Just talk to someone who lived through the declines in Anaconda or Butte or the Flathead.
Workers did not create this mess. It wasn’t them and their families that decided to cut corners for profits, which inevitably led to the lawsuits that are forcing Unites 1 and 2 to close. These decisions were made by out-of-state executives with huge salaries and little care for the people who work for them.
I have little hope for the far-right wing of the Republican Party. They are unabashed in their support for profit over people. Instead, I’m looking at my own Democratic Party. This will be a defining moment. Will the Democratic Party continue its rightward shift towards corporate America or will it rediscover its populist soul, fight for people over profits, hold corporations accountable, and maybe even start winning elections again?
This legislation is about ensuring the massive corporations that have made huge profits off of our land and our people’s labor don’t just cut and run, leaving families unable to sell their homes, relocate, and transition. The choice should be an easy one.