September 20, 2008

Coal Key in Race for Montana Governor


HELENA, Mont. - Republican Roy Brown has promised a more aggressive energy policy for Montana if elected governor - with expanded coal mining, a new power plant and fewer barriers to oil and gas exploration.

Brown, a state senator from Billings, said this week that placing a large tract of state-owned coal in southeastern Montana up for bid would be among his first actions as governor.

Brown said the Land Board has been seeking an appraisal of the Otter Creek coal tracts' approximately 1 billion tons of coal since May, and that the process has moved too slowly under Gov. Brian Schweitzer. As governor, Schweitzer chairs the Land Board.

"The governor's had four years to do this," Brown said. "What better way to see what they're worth than to put those up for bid?"

Schweitzer, a Democrat, has made energy a centerpiece of his first term in office. Brown has not been discouraged by Schweitzer's frequent talk of energy accomplishments, instead saying the governor has failed to deliver.

For his part, Schweitzer said coal production has risen by about 7 percent since he took office - and is poised to grow even more after two companies pledged to sink $450 million into a mine near Roundup. Another major project, a coal conversion plant on the Crow reservation, was also recently announced.

Schweitzer said previous Republican administrations hadn't done much on energy: "No increase in coal production, a decline in oil production and virtually no increase in energy generation."

Originally published by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS.

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