Alternative Energy Policy in a Season of Political Acrimony: A Survey of the Montana 2007 Legislature's Approach to Biofuels Legislation

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION

Described by one commentator as "an unmitigated disaster at reaching compromise on the session's biggest issues," (1) and "one of the most bitterly partisan sessions in recent history," (2) Montana's 60th Legislative Session seemed to bear out the aphorism "all politics is personal and the personal is political." The Governor's "clean and green" energy bill, which started life as Senate Bill ("SB") 562, (3) failed to pass in three separate incarnations. (4) A competing energy bill championed by Republican House Majority Leader Mike Lange also failed to pass (House Bill "HB" 405). (5) On the eighty-eighth day of a ninety-day session, House Republican leadership suggested, in a committee meeting recorded on camera, that the Governor perform an anatomically impossible act in regard to a proposed budget. (6) Bi-partisan biofuels legislation seemed to take a back seat to the Governor's plank, "clean coal." (7) Possibly related to the fact that the Governor had "done away with the bipartisan leadership meetings that were routine in previous administrations," (8) the Governor's budget proposal was simply tabled, "the first time anyone can recall that a governor's budget offering was simply shot down rather than amended." (9) No budget was passed in the regular legislative session, resulting in the gubernatorial veto of the single biofuels bill of substance that passed both legislative houses for the absence of funds resulting from the absence of a budget. Whatever the relative advantages of coal to diesel, biofuel, wind, or oil, they were not the issues that controlled the outcome of biofuels legislation in Montana's 60th Legislative Session.

II. BIOFUELS LEGISLATION

Although agriculture is Montana's largest industry, (10) corn is not Montana's most important crop. Montana's farmers grow far more wheat and barley than they do corn, (11) which is currently the most common raw material from which ethanol is produced. (12) Nevertheless, Montana saw significant biofuel legislation during the 2007 regular legislative session, held from January until April. Legislators from both parties introduced eleven bills and one joint resolution related either to ethanol, biodiesel, or both. Eight of these bills died in committee or in process. Three were passed by both branches of the Legislature, signed by Governor Brian Schweitzer, and subsequently assigned a chapter number. One of the bills was subsequently vetoed by Governor Schweitzer.

The reason and inspiration for the significant volume of biofuel legislation introduced during the 2007 regular session, despite the contra-indication inherent in the corn to barley or corn to wheat ratio, is easily inferred from both the Legislature's joint resolution on the subject and the Governor's policy emphasis on "green energy." Both houses endorsed and further resolved that the joint resolution be sent to the President of the United States, the President of the United States Senate, the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, the Majority and Minority Leaders of both Houses, and each member of the Montana Congressional Delegation.

House Joint Resolution Number Six was introduced by Legislators Phillips, Lind, Nooney, Augare, Cordier, Ebinger, Erickson, Hands, Hollenbaugh, O'Hara, Pominchowsky, Van Dyk, Wilmer, and Wiseman and was subsequently adopted by both houses. That joint resolution endorsed initiative "25 x 25" which "envisions America's farms and ranches producing 25% of America's energy supply by the year 2025 while continuing to produce abundant, safe, and affordable food and fiber[.]" (13) The Legislature set forth reasons for the endorsement that included the following:

   [H]aving an affordable, clean, reliable, and plentiful energy
   supply is critical to Montana's economy, as well as the national
   and international food supply; ... current and future risks to
   national energy security are mounting while domestic and global
   energy demands are growing exponentially; . …