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Government & Politics

Colstrip Residents Want Bullock To Get Tough and Fight for Town and Coal

"It's more about the lawsuits than it is about the clean power plan," says Montana senator Duane Ankey of Colstrip.
Jackie Yamanaka


Governor Steve Bullock said coal is going to a be a significant part of Montana’s energy future going forward even though that future is uncertain for the coal market.

“But certainly I am committed, been committed, to making sure we’re turning over every rock,” he said.

Bullock told the crowd gathered at the Colstrip City Hall for his Energy Roundtable he has met with Asian markets and the owners of the Colstrip plants, pursuing carbon capture projects, and challenging the federal Clean Power Plan initiative that’s currently on hold.

Colstrip resident Terry Taylor wanted more. He said Colstrip is being hammered by the Montana Environmental Information Center, the Northern Plains Resource Council, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Credit Jackie Yamanaka
Colstrip resident Terry Taylor addressing Governor Steve Bullock's energy roundtable at Colstrip's City Hall. Among the panel members from left to right, Rex Rogers of IBEW, State Senator Duane Ankney, R-Colstrip, and Jim Atchison of Southeastern Montana Development.

Taylor said coal has provided millions of dollars in taxes for the entire state to enjoy.

“And people act like it’s a no big deal,” he said. “It is a big deal to all of us here. So I respect the office of Governor but we gotta fight. We gotta stand up and fight for what we believe in. We need you to get tough.”

After a brief back and forth with Bullock and another panel member, Taylor walked out. 

Two other members of the public, who did not give their names, picked up where Terry Taylor left off, “We’re not feeling the love, you know what I’m saying.”

Then the man told Bullock he and his departments can do more to fight for Colstrip.

“And I think that’s what Terry was trying to get across to you. Stand up. Pound your fist once in a while and say we’ve had enough of this crap. Let’s stand up for our energy portfolio or whatever we need to do for the state of Montana. That’s what we’re asking from you.”

Bullock thanked the man. He said he and others are taking action. He said he asked Washington Governor Jay Inslee earlier this year to veto legislation from the Washington state Legislature that would lead to the eventual end of buying coal-generated power. He added that’s why he’s holding this energy roundtable.

“Part of this discussion is to say, ‘What can you do?’” Bullock said. “Because my perspective is just standing up and yelling ain’t going to change the price of natural gas. It ain’t going to save the jobs. So it’s about figuring out what steps we can ultimately take to do so.”

Bullock said what’s happening more and more in the political system is yelling, screaming, and building fear. Bullock said he wants to sit down and find a solution.

Republican State Senator Duane Ankney of Colstrip thinks Bullock, a Democrat, could do both.

“Stand up and roar a little bit and in the meantime work. That’s what I do,” said Ankney.

“Yah, I think we need some passion out of Helena,” he added. “I told the governor that so I’m not blindsiding him with something. I went up after this and said, ‘Listen to that young man back there. You need to stand up and roar a little bit, talk about coal and Colstrip.”

Dave Saulsbury brought this sign with him to the energy roundtable. The retired Colstrip school administrator sat with his wife Vicky in the front row, right in front of Governor Steve Bullock.

When asked about that, Bullock said he knows it’s “the silly season” but that he didn’t want to play political games in this election year and further incite fear.

“I don’t think that’s responsible,” he said. “I get, I guess, the humbling opportunity to be governor and do what I can to make sure that Colstrip, as a plant, stays viable and this community stays viable as is other communities across the state.”

Bullock faces re-election this year. He has token opposition on the June 7, 2016 primary ballot, which he has ignored.

The same is true for Republican Greg Gianforte of Bozeman.

Gianforte has his sights on Bullock and he’s criticized the Democratic incumbent over the issue of coal and Colstrip. 

As for Bullock, this was the fourth energy roundtable. He has held others on solar, wind, and energy efficiency. He plans to release his plan on Montana’s Energy future in June.