Development official predicts Colstrip closure to be hot topic for legislature

At Thursday’s meeting of the Miles City Area Economic Development Council (MCAEDC) Southeastern Montana Development Corporation (SEMDC) Executive Director Jim Atchison gave a legislative update.

“Coal and Colstrip will definitely be in the news during the legislature,” said Atchison. “There’s five Colstrip bills in play right now. Two of them are administrative type things and three of them all hell is going to break loose, probably.”

In 2016, it was announced that Units 1 and 2 of the Colstrip Power Plant would be closed by 2022. Colstrip faces a total loss of 200 or more jobs. 

According to Atchison, one of the bills has to do with litigation efforts to protect and retrain Colstrip workers.

A bill sponsored by Sen. Duane Ankney, R-Colstrip, would impose impact fees on the entity that closes any Colstrip power plant. Money from the fee would be distributed to local governments to help offset the impact from the closure. 

A third bill would increase taxes on electricity made commercially in Montana that is sent elsewhere. 

According to Atchison, another bill to watch is HB3, a maintenance bill that appears in every session.  “It’s like a supplemental bill where things that weren’t authorized in the previous session go. And last session $1.9M in coal board money was not authorized,” he said. 

Miles City currently has a project that is dependent on the authorization of that money. The City recently received a coal board grant for $50,000 for an ambulance. 

According to Atchison, that grant will be honored if the bill is passed. If it isn’t passed there is a possibility that the grant would be void. 

Another big issue in this session is public infrastructure.  According to Atchison there will be a lot of discussion on what exactly qualifies as public infrastructure.