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Montana: County commissioners support Public Lands Renewable Energy Act

January 3, 2012


In addressing our country’s debt crisis, the President and Congress need look no further than the great state of Montana. Our diversified economy must be a marvel to behold in states that are making desperate attempts to balance their budgets on the backs of taxpayers. Montana is one of only 12 states operating in the black with a projected $426.7 million surplus for fiscal year 2011.

While this is exciting news, we must continue looking for ways to keep Montana competitive and open the door to new jobs by giving incentives for development in renewable energy. Montana ranks second nationally in wind potential, but we are only 18th in production. That is why we enthusiastically support the Public Lands Renewable Energy Act of 2011 (S. 1775) — a bill that will create jobs by eliminating barriers currently facing wind and solar development.

The Public Lands Renewable Energy Act (S. 1775) is a truly bi-partisan bill sponsored by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Jim Risch (R-Idaho) that cuts red tape currently facing renewable energy developers who want access to public land with high potential for wind and solar. This bill would guarantee leases for them in the same way oil and gas leases are handled by the BLM, adding more predictability and peace of mind for investors.

This bill is a common-sense solution to bring new investment to Montana, and with it, high-paying jobs in a growing national market place.

We have many resources in Montana, especially on public lands, and the revenue generated from oil and gas development in each county helps pay for essential services from the state on down to the local municipalities and county operations. This bill simply does the same for solar and wind development on public land.

The bill also sets the distribution of royalties that energy companies pay out for the use of public land:

  • 25 percent would go to the state;
  • 25 percent would go to the county in which the project operates;
  • 15 percent would go to the federal government for processing renewable energy permits;
  • 35 percent would go toward a conservation fund to offset the impacts to habitat and secure access for sportsmen.
As we continue to look for ways to continue our example of fiscal leadership in this country, let’s continue to build on an already solid foundation of economic diversity and strength by opening the door to new renewable energy development on federal lands.

In 2009, oil production alone on federal lands in Montana brought in $37.5 million in royalties according to the BLM website. Nationally, from 1999 to 2008, the number of approved oil and gas permits on public lands increased by 260 percent.

As you look around the state, it is hard to miss the obvious potential for renewable energy development in Montana.

With wide-ranging support from sportsmen to local governments, Sens. Jon Tester and Risch urge passage of a bipartisan bill they sponsored that streamlines permitting for renewable energy projects on public lands.

In introducing the bill, Tester said that Montana’s potential for renewable energy can make the Treasure State a worldwide leader in energy production, resulting in countless jobs and new opportunities. “With some of the best renewable energy development sites located on public lands, it is vital to expand this industry while protecting the natural resources that make our region famous,” Tester said.  “Our bill is a common-sense way to create jobs and give renewable energy the same opportunities as oil and gas. And by responsibly developing our energy resources, we will also increase our energy security.”

We agree with the sponsors and look forward to opportunities for renewable energy production, job creation, conservation and local investment in Lewis and Clark County.

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