Monday, November 12, 2012

The GOP's new dominance of the Montana Public Service Commission: implications for coal, oil, and the Montana Bakken

I'm most gratified to see our friend (and fellow former Yellowstone County GOP chair) Kirk Bushman with a small but comfortable lead in the PSC district that encompasses Billings and its surrounds. Granted, there is a lot of vote to be tallied, due to problems with machines, but let's hope that the vote continues to break Bushman's way. Couldn't happen to be a better guy, and given Bushman's broad political interests, it will be good to have him on the Republican bench for possible future statewide races.

While all three races are tight as of the current vote tallies, and things could change, it is looking like the GOP could sweep all three PSC races, going from a 3-2 majority to a "clean sweep" 5-0 majority. As Brad Molnar (who was the sole Republican for a time on the Commission) can attest, a big majority makes a big difference, since a Republican commissioner can defect on any given vote without ultimate negative consequences. Bob Lake, from what we remember of him, is a very solid sort, and he is to be commended for being able to unseat an incumbent Democrat in a tough district for a Republican to win. As to Roger Koopman, granted, Montana Headlines is not exactly a fan club site. But congratulations to him all the same for being able to unseat an incumbent Democrat. May he prosper on the Commission and discover a talent for moderation, restraint, and rhetorical discretion... Everyone has it inside them -- you just need to dig deep and find it. And think about it -- if you stand in just the right place and squint your eyes just right while looking at the Montana PSC, it is like seeing (to steal a phrase from WFB) a dream walking: a solid majority of reasonable conservatives to make up the governing majority, and an extreme right-winger to play the obligatory role of the neutered opposition...

For the last couple of years the Montana PSC has had a 3-2 Republican majority, but much of the proceedings seem to have been overshadowed by fighting between Republicans Brad Molnar of Laurel and Travis Kavulla of Great Falls. I don't know Kavulla, but he seems like a very sharp and ambitious young man. He was formerly on staff at National Review, which speaks well of his general political disposition and intellectual capacity.

Brad Molnar I do know personally, and he was always very good to me and most helpful during my time of political involvement. And things are never boring when Molnar is around! (My interview with Molnar back in 2008 still holds the record for being the most-read post in the history of this site.)

At one point, Molnar (a Ron Paul supporter) and I (a McCain supporter because of his being the presumptive nominee and because he had overwhelmingly won the Montana primary election over Paul) tried to team up to broker a compromise between Ron Paul supporters and the McCain people in order to avoid a floor fight at the 2008 Montana GOP convention. We were ruthlessly shot down by the McCain honchos, for whom nothing but total victory for their side was an acceptable outcome, but it was fun trying.

I haven't spoken to Molnar since these problems erupted on the PSC, but the bottom line is that with the GOP in control of all 5 seats, we can expect that reasonable decisions favorable to traditional energy development will be produced, regardless of inevitable intra-party disagreements. We also have every reason to hope that the interests of Montana consumers will trump theoretical green energy benefits.

What exactly can the PSC do to promote traditional energy development in Montana? Not a lot directly. One thing it can do is to restore full accountability and honest accounting when it comes to telling Montanans about the true cost of green energy requirements for Montana utility companies. There are those who believe that there has been smoke and mirrors used to cover up the true cost of wind energy in our state, and the Commission will be able to address that -- laying out the numbers in front of the public and asking Montanans if they think the cost is worth the benefit.

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