A legislative committee will examine the coal industry in Montana and the effects of changes in coal production at its January meeting.
All but a fraction of the coal mined in Montana is converted to electricity, either in-state, out-of-state, or out-of-country. Coal’s contribution to U.S. electrical generation, however, continues to decline. In recent years, about three-quarters of Montana’s coal production has been shipped by rail to out-of-state utilities and, increasingly, foreign nations. Montana consumes the remaining quarter.
The coal outlook is just one of several issues on the agenda for the Environmental Quality Council (EQC) at its meeting Jan. 17-18. The bipartisan panel of legislators and public members meets in room 172 of the Capitol starting at 9:30 a.m. on Jan. 17.
The EQC will contemplate funding options for battling aquatic invasive species, managing the risk of wildfire, and collecting data on plants and animals. The council will continue its evaluation of how state parks are managed and funded.
Currently, the effort to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species (AIS) comes from fees on hydroelectric users and anglers, but those revenues are set to expire in two years. Maintaining the status quo in Montana or implementing a new AIS funding structure requires legislation. In January, the EQC begins debating possible recommendations to the 2019 Legislature.
The Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (FWP) will update the council on efforts to track and contain chronic wasting disease. The fatal neurologic disease afflicts deer, elk, and moose and is present in both the southern and northern areas of Montana.
As part of its duty to keep tabs on the executive branch, the council requires the departments of Environmental Quality, Natural Resources and Conservation, and Agriculture to report on compliance and enforcement efforts within each agency.
The training of bird dogs is a controversial issue for the FWP and the council. At meetings earlier in the interim, council members criticized two attempts by the agency to implement the law through rulemaking. The law provides that dogs may be trained in open fields anytime if game birds are not killed or captured and the training is conducted a mile or more from a bird nesting area, management area, or game preserve. The agency said rules are needed because trainers are running as many as 60 dogs at a time, to the detriment of game birds. However, the FWP scuttled proposed rules in lieu of further EQC discussion. The January meeting includes a history of the statute.
The meeting will be live streamed at http://leg.mt.gov and broadcast on Television Montana (TVMT.) Check local channel listings to find TVMT. For more information about the meeting, including a full agenda, visit the committee’s website or contact Joe Kolman, committee staff.