BILLS WE SUPPORT
TABLED HB 34 – INCREASING NET METERING CAP FOR PUBLIC BUILDINGS – sponsored by Rep. Daniel Zolnikov, R-Billings, would increase the net metering cap for government buildings to 250kW/hr. We support it because it would allow for government buildings to offset more of their energy, saving tax payers money. The House Energy, Technology, and Federal Relations Committee tabled the bill.
TABLED HB 52 – GRANDFATHERING EXISTING CUSTOMER-GENERATOR NET METERING RATES – sponsored by Rep. Daniel Zolnikov, R-Billings, would grandfather existing net metered customers (people with rooftop solar or small wind systems) at the current rate if any rate changes are made in the future. This bill is about fairness and consumer protection. The House Energy, Technology, and Federal Relations Committee tabled the bill.
TABLED HB 54: WATER RIGHTS DURING DROUGHTS – sponsored by Rep. Zach Brown, D-Bozeman, would revise water right abandonment laws to account for drought plans. Currently, water rights are maintained under the premise of ‘use it or lose it.’ This bill would ensure that landowners would not lose their water rights due to drought. The House Natural Resources Committee tabled the bill.
TABLED HB 215: REVISE OIL AND GAS TAX LAW – sponsored by Rep. Mary Ann Dunwell, D-Helena, would reform Montana’s Oil and Gas Tax Holiday, which only requires a 0.5% production tax on wells in their first 18 months of production (when most production occurs). Instead, HB 215 will require a 4.5% production tax during the first 18 months, which is still lower than our neighboring states of Wyoming and North Dakota. The House Taxation Committee tabled the bill.
SENT TO GOVERNOR HB 219: REQUIRE A COST-BENEFIT ANALYSIS OF NET METERING – sponsored by Rep. Zach Brown, D-Bozeman, would require a cost-benefit analysis of net metering before April 1, 2018. This bill will protect current net-metered customers in the event that the Public Service Commission decides to establish a separate rate class for homeowners who have already installed rooftop solar systems. The Senate and House passed the bill. It is now waiting to be signed or vetoed by the Governor.
TABLED HB 242: ESTABLISHING A NATURAL RESOURCES FUND – sponsored by Rep. Tom Jacobson, D-Great Falls, would establish a natural resources trust fund, which would be funded from taxes on coal severance and oil and gas production. This bill would add revenue from taxes on oil and gas production to the existing and successful coal tax trust fund, establishing sound fiscal policy that will create long-term benefits for the people of Montana off of finite resources. The House Taxation Committee tabled the bill.
TABLED HB 284: REVISE FUNDING FOR FOOD AND AGRICULTURE DEVELOPMENT CENTERS – sponsored by Rep. Dennis Lenz, R-Billings, would appropriate additional revenue to the Montana Food and Agricultural Development Program, which serves a valuable and much needed investment into rural Ag communities throughout Montana. The House Appropriations Committee tabled the bill.
TABLED HB 296: STUDY ON MONTANA’S HAZARDOUS MATERIALS RESPONSE AND PREPAREDNESS – sponsored by Rep. Denise Hayman, D-Bozeman, will convene a task force study in order to determine the gaps that exist in Montana’s hazardous materials transportation response and preparedness. The bill intends to solve the inefficiencies – in funding and training – that exist for our first responders and address the safety issues in transporting oil by rail and other hazardous materials on our roads and railways. The House State Administration Committee tabled the bill.
SENT TO GOVERNOR HB 344: PROTECTION OF LANDOWNERS AFFECTED BY COAL BED METHANE – sponsored by Rep. Geraldine Custer, R-Forsyth, would appropriate money to the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) to allow conservation districts to properly administer the coal bed methane protection program. This bill would fund the protection of landowners affected by coal bed methane development. The Senate and House passed the bill. It is now waiting to be signed or vetoed by the Governor.
TABLED HB 420 – REVISE ALLOCATION OF TAXES FOR OIL AND GAS IMPACT PROJECTS – sponsored by Rep. Bradley Hamlett, D-Cascade, would mandate that some of the proceeds from oil and gas production taxes be used for oil and gas impact projects. It would ensure that communities impacted by oil and gas development have the funds to mitigate those impacts. The House Taxation Committee tabled the bill.
TABLED HB 514 – RENAME SCHOOL COMMEMORATION OF COLUMBUS DAY TO MONTANA HERITAGE DAY – sponsored Rep. Bridget Smith, D-Wolf Point, would rename the school commemoration of Columbus Day to Montana Heritage Day. The bill originally asked for an Indigenous People’s Day, honoring the heritage of Montana’s Native population. The amended bill passed the House 75-25 and was sent to the Senate. The Senate State Administration Committee held a hearing on March 22. On March 27, the Senate State Administration Committee voted with a 4-4 tie vote. The Committee voted again on April 7 with a 4-4 tie vote. The bill remains in committee. A motion to blast HB 514 to the Senate floor failed.
TABLED HB 525 – AUTHORIZE AUTOMATIC VOTER REGISTRATION – sponsored by Rep. Moffie Funk, D-Helena. Currently, voter registration is an “opt in” policy, where an eligible voter chooses to fill out a registration application that gets reviewed and processed before their name goes on the voter rolls. HB 252 would create an “opt out” policy in Montana, in which an eligible voter is placed on the rolls unless they actively decline to be registered. The House State Administration Committee tabled the bill.
SB 11 – PSC REVIEW OF NET METERING INTERCONNECTION – sponsored by Sen. Pat Connell, R-Hamilton, , would require the Montana Public Service Commission to review and update safety and interconnection standards for net metering systems every two years. This will avoid a scenario in which the standards become so out-of-date that they will require significant alterations to get into compliance with state administrative rules. The Senate passed the bill 50-0 and sent it to the House. The House passed the bill 75-25 and returned it to the Senate on April 21.
MISSED TRANSMITTAL SB 190: ESTABLISH MONITORING AND REPORTING REQUIREMENTS FOR GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS – sponsored by Sen. Mike Phillips, D-Bozeman, creates a Montana solution for addressing climate change. By identifying major sources of greenhouse emissions and establishing fees for those emissions, businesses would have an incentive to reduce emissions and lower their impact on climate change. The Department of Environmental Quality would also report to EQC on a plan to address the causes and effects of climate change in Montana including the impacts on our “economy, environment, and public health.” The Senate Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on Feb. 22. On March 21, the Senate voted to indefinitely postpone 2nd reading on the bill. It missed the bill transmittal deadline of March 31.
TABLED SB 201 – ALLOW FOR AGGREGATE NET METERING – sponsored by Sen. Jedediah Hinkle, R-Belgrade, would allow for aggregate net metering in Montana. This would make it possible for Montanans with multiple meters on their property, like many farmers and ranchers, to apply their net metering credits to multiple meters. The Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee tabled the bill on Feb. 23.
MISSED TRANSMITTAL SB 247 – REQUIRE A STATE POLLINATOR REPORT – sponsored by Sen. Mike Phillips, D-Bozeman, would create the Saving Montana’s Pollinators Act to protect Montana’s native bees and other pollinators, including birds and animals, from exposure to neonicotinoid insecticides. These are used on seeds and plants and affect the central nervous system of the animals exposed. SB 247 was amended on Feb. 23 to require the Department of Agriculture to prepare a state pollination report, rather than banning neonicotinoid insecticides. The Senate Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation Committee passed the bill on Feb. 23. This bill has missed the deadline for general bill transmittal, and is effectively dead.
TABLED SB 330 – PROVIDE FOR PROPERTY ASSESSED CLEAN ENERGY FINANCING – sponsored by Sen. Chas Vincent, R-Libby, would enable Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing in Montana. PACE is a simple and effective way to finance energy efficiency, renewable energy, and water conservation upgrades to buildings. PACE would save Montanans money, and improve Main Street Montana. The Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee held a hearing on March 23. The committee voted to table the bill. SB 330 was taken from the table in committee and passed through 7-6. On March 31, SB 330 passed through the Senate 31-19 and was transmitted to the House Natural Resources Committee. On April 10, the House Natural Resource Committee tabled SB 330.
TABLED SB 338 – REVISE LAWS RELATED TO CLOSURE OF CERTAIN COAL-FIRED GENERATION – sponsored by Sen. Duane Ankney, R-Colstrip, would allow the owner of a coal-fired generating unit to either establish a transition agreement with the state, or submit a stringent retirement plan to DEQ that enables the state to collect revenue through fines if the company does not fulfill their obligations under the retirement plan. Fines would also mitigate cost shifts within a community directly affected by the retirement of a coal-fired generating unit. The Senate Energy and Telecommunications committee held a hearing on March 16. On March 24, SB 338 was referred to the Senate Finance and Claims Committee. A hearing took place on March 27. The bill passed the Senate and was sent to the House Energy, Technology, and Federal Relations Committee. On April 10, SB 338 was tabled in the House Energy, Technology, and Federal Relations Committee.
BILLS WE OPPOSE
VETOED SB 7: GENERALLY REVISE NET METERING – sponsored by Sen. Pat Connell, R-Hamilton, states that a net metering customer may not be subsidized by public utility customers who do not use net metering systems. The net metering customer does not receive a sum of money granted by the government or a public body, but merely receives credits for the electricity they produce but don’t use. SB 7 passed the Senate 31-18 on January 26 and was transmitted to the House. The House Energy, Technology, and Federal Relations Committee held a hearing on February 3. The bill passed out of Committee and passed through the House with a third reading vote of 56-42. SB 7 was vetoed by Governor Bullock on April 14.
VETOED SB 32: ELIMINATE COMMUNITY RENEWABLE ENERGY PROJECT REQUIREMENT – sponsored by Sen. Keith Regier, R-Kallispell, would eliminate the Community Renewable Energy Project (CREP) requirement from Montana’s Renewable Resource Standard (RRS). The CREP requirement within the RRS is not able to function as intended, but some relatively small changes will make it easier to qualify and are a good solution to the problems with the requirement, which is why we oppose the bill. The bill passed both the House and the Senate. SB 32 was vetoed by the Governor on April 7.
TABLED SB 78: DISMANTLING NET METERING – sponsored by Sen. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell, would establish a new rate class for net metering customers and require a monthly service charge, effectively dismantling net metering. This unfair rate structure would only serve utilities’ monopolies and undercut clean energy producers. The Senate passed the bill 30-19. Our citizen lobbyists were able to whip four additional votes in opposition to SB 78 on third reading on the Senate floor. The House Energy, Telecommunications, and Federal Relations Committee tabled the bill on April 3.
SIGNED INTO LAW SB 86: CREATE TAX INCENTIVES FOR OIL & GAS INDUSTRY – sponsored by Sen. Tom Richmond, R-Billings, would reduce the tax trigger on incremental oil and gas wells. Oil and gas companies in Montana already enjoy very low tax rates, as well as a tax holiday for the first year of production. Oil and gas companies should have to pay their fair share to ensure that taxpayers don’t bear the burden of the impacts associated with oil and gas development in impacted communities. The House and the Senate passed SB 86 and it was signed by the Governor on March 23.
SENT TO GOVERNOR SB 93: LOWERING LANDOWNER NOTIFICATION OF DRILLING – sponsored by Sen. Tom Richmond, R-Billings, would undermine Board of Oil and Gas Conservation rules requiring oil and gas operators to notify owners of homes and occupied buildings, such as offices, hospitals, and schools, within 1320 feet of a proposed oil or gas well. This bill would lower the minimum notification distance to 660 feet and remove notification for schools, hospitals, or other occupied buildings that are not private residences of drilling proposals. The Senate and House passed the bill. It is now waiting to be signed or vetoed by the Governor.
TABLED SB 102: ESTABLISH A MAXIMUM LENGTH FOR QUALIFYING FACILITY CONTRACTS – sponsored by Sen. Tom Richmond, R-Billings, would limit the maximum contract length for new wind and solar projects seeking to utilize the federal Public Utilities Regulatory Policy Act (PURPA). This bill would severely reduce the amount of wind and solar development under PURPA. The Senate passed the bill 25-24 and sent it to the House. The House Energy, Technology, and Federal Relations Committee held a hearing on March 10. The committee voted to table the bill on March 29.
SENT TO GOVERNOR SB 154 – REPEAL NET METERING INCENTIVES – sponsored by Sen. Mike Lang, R-Malta, would repeal the alternative energy production credit and make net metering systems ineligible for the alternative energy system credit. This would only increase general fund revenue by about $120,000 per year. (To put this in context, the oil and gas tax holiday resulted in $265 million in lost revenue for the state from 2008 to 2014.) The Legislature is again moving tax incentives for the oil and gas industry while repealing the meager incentives that exist for net metering. The Senate and House passed the bill. It is now waiting to be signed or vetoed by the Governor.
SIGNED INTO LAW SB 155 – PROHIBIT LOCAL REGULATION OF AGRICULTURAL SEEDS – sponsored by Sen. Mike Lang, R-Malta, is an American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) bill that seeks to make it impossible for local governments to ban the use of GM seeds. This bill is brought to you by Monsanto. The Senate passed the bill 33-17 and sent it to the House. The House Agriculture Committee held a hearing on March 7 and passed the bill to the floor 15-8 on March 14. The House passed the bill 70-30 on March 23. SB 155 is now waiting to be signed or vetoed by the Governor. On April 7. the Governor sent the bill back to the Legislature with an amendatory veto removing the provision in the bill that prevents local governments from regulating packaging, labeling, and notification of seeds.
SB 235: REVIVAL OF OTTER CREEK COAL LEASE – sponsored by Sen. Tom Richmond, R-Billings, would allow coal leases on state lands to be extended. If this bill were to pass, the Otter Creek coal lease would never expire, and Arch Coal could try to breathe new life into the proposed Otter Creek Mine and Tongue River Railroad at any time. The Senate passed the bill. The House passed the bill 66-34 on second reading on April 21. It will likely go to the Governor.
SB 248 – REVISE LAWS REGARDING EXEMPT WELLS AND FAMILY TRANSFER PARCELS – sponsored by Sen. Mark Blasdel, R-Kalispell, allows anyone using the family transfer exemption in the subdivision and platting act to also be guaranteed an exemption from obtaining a water right for a well that pumps up to 35 gallons per minute. The family transfer exemption is already a big exemption in the subdivision law, and this bill would compound the problem. The Senate and House passed the bill. A conference committee passed the bill 28-22 on third reading on April 21. It will likely go to the Governor.
TABLED SB 277 – PROHIBIT USE OF ALTERNATIVE ENERGY LOAN ACCOUNT FOR VIRTUAL NET METERING – sponsored by Sen. Tom Richmond, R-Billings, would disallow Montana energy consumers from utilizing the Alternative Energy Revolving Loan Program to fund the upfront costs of an alternative energy system if it is a community system, or a system that is not physically connected to the property where the energy is consumed. In the Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee hearing on February 21, it became clear that few people, including the bill’s sponsor, actually knew what the bill would do. The Committee tabled the bill on Feb. 23.
SB 337 – ELIMINATE THE BOARD OF ENVIRONMENTAL REVIEW (BER) – sponsored by Sen. Duane Ankney, R-Colstrip, would severely limit the ability of the public to participate in the permitting processes of proposed mines. Northern Plains successfully opposed the Otter Creek Mine at the BER, leading to the eventual suspension of the permit application by Arch Coal. The Senate passed the bill. The House passed the bill 60-40 on second reading on April 21. It will likely go to the Governor.
HB 339 – REVISE LAWS RELATED TO EXEMPT APPROPRIATIONS TO EXEMPT WELLS – sponsored by Rep. Carl Glimm, R-Kila, would put a loophole into state law that allows the development of unregulated and unmonitored groundwater wells that pump less than 35 gallons per minute and produce less than 10 acre-feet of water a year. These wells could be used for new large-consumption water uses, such as subdivisions, without a permit. If passed, it would wreck the water rights system that has conserved and allocated precious water resources for more than a century in Montana. The House passed the bill.. The Senate passed the bill and returned it to the House.
TABLED HB 363 – ESTABLISH RENEWABLE ENERGY PERMITTING, DECOMMISSIONING PROGRAMS – sponsored by Rep. Dennis Lenz, R-Billings, would require the owners of renewable energy systems to acquire a permit and pay a surety bond, giving the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) the ability to deny permits. This bill would make it more difficult and cumbersome for an individual to install a renewable energy system on their property. The House Energy, Technology, and Federal Relations Committee tabled the bill.