Sen. Richmond counters Brad Molnar

By 
Tom Richmond Montana State Senator
Thursday, April 16, 2020

Brad Molnar recently announced his candidacy for Senate District 28, the district that I have been privileged to represent for the last two legislative sessions. While campaigning I was asked repeatedly about Colstrip jobs, coal and oil and gas resources and retaining the energy industry’s place in our economy. I promised to do whatever I could to counter efforts to destroy responsible natural resource development in Montana. My efforts to try to ensure reliable and affordable power for all Northwestern Energy’s customers, including the refineries in Yellowstone County, apparently spurred my opponent’s last-minute filing.

Mr. Molnar’s comparing himself to an old war horse is interesting, but he missed a few key elements of history and conveniently downplayed some events that anyone remotely familiar with Google can find.

Mr. Molnar was not dragged before the Commissioner of Political Practices for illegally leading his mule in a parade but for using his state computer for campaign purposes and his state cell phone for personal business, including planning his appearance in a Miles City Parade. His trouble with the COPP ethics violation didn’t stem from his “running an unsanctioned conservation event,” but for improperly soliciting and illegally receiving money from PPL Montana and NorthWestern Energy to fund his event. Officials rejected Molnar’s argument that the brochures were educational materials or that the event was part of his official governmental duties. In a unanimous decision the Montana Supreme Court agreed that Molnar improperly accepted money from power companies to finance a conservation event and improperly used his state email address and computer to help his 2008 re-election campaign.

Demonizing the utility and those of us fighting to keep natural resource jobs in Montana serves no purpose but to promote a political energy agenda that is mostly ambiguous and well-sprinkled with buzzwords. Mr. Molnar suggests (without any evidence) that buying reliable baseload generation will cost rate payers a billion dollars. What does cost a billion dollars is a proposed pumped storage project that adds reliability to Montana’s intermittent wind and solar generation. Ratepayers have suffered through de-regulation and ended up with substantially higher bills; ignoring the intermittent nature of renewables adds to the ratepayer’s plight -they can have both expensive AND unreliable power.

Mr. Molnar has fabricated a story about HB 22 facilitating a green new deal. This bill by Rep. Bishop was requested by the Energy and Telecommunications Interim Committee; I opposed this bill in that committee. My name is associated with HB22 because I was appointed to chair a conference committee to reconcile differences between the House and Senate versions. The need for the bill became less important as a court decision essentially resolved the issues the bill addressed, and the bill died at the end of the session.

I find it interesting that Mr. Molnar believes he killed SB331 (enabling the baseload generation purchase) by remote control; as he well knows, the demise of SB331 resulted not due to his influence but backlash on another bill unrelated to SB 331. As Mr. Molnar also knows, the intent of the legislature – following the disaster of deregulation – is to facilitate the utility’s purchase of its own generation to reduce price volatility and increase reliability by relying less on third-party power.

Brad Molnar was a cosponsor of 1997’s Senate Bill 390, the deregulation bill that started the disintegration of Montana Power Company. His signature is at the top of the original bill. He later blamed the Public Service Commission for the final deregulation decision - choosing to ignore the impact of the enabling legislation. Former state Sen. John Harp, a key figure in the passage of the 1997 law, said he was ‘‘hoodwinked’’ and apologized to Montanans. Presumably, Mr. Molnar is still satisfied with his sponsorship of SB 390. His approach to coal and coal electrical generation certainly agrees with the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign which overprices the costs of coal generation and underprices renewables.

Many of Senate District 28’s residents are people employed in industries associated with natural resource extraction. I support these industries not only because of my personal background, but because we depend upon them as employees, business owners and taxpayers. The tax dollars contributed by coal, oil, gas, refineries and related services are state tax dollars not collected from wage earners and homeowners. I am running for re-election because I want to make a difference, not just send a message.

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Tuesday, November 3, 2020
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