Coal

While coal trains draw Missoula protests, coal money doesn't

2014-01-11T11:00:00Z 2014-10-03T14:24:37Z While coal trains draw Missoula protests, coal money doesn't missoulian.com

Activists have protested coal trains coming through Missoula.

The many projects that coal money support here are another matter.

Coal is the source of the Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund, which has provided millions of dollars in economic support for some of Missoula’s homegrown businesses since its creation by the Montana Legislature in 2005. Think TerraEchos and Rivertop Renewables.

“I think that the funds Missoula receives are extremely important in terms of economic development,” said City Councilwoman Caitlin Copple, who has sought Big Sky funds to support the council’s economic development efforts. “Does that mean I’m a big fan of fossil fuels? No. But the reality is we live in a state where energy is a really important part of our economy.”

The Treasure State Endowment Fund also comes from coal, and it supports infrastructure such as sewer and water pipes. In this fiscal year, the Montana Legislature approved $480,372 for a bridge project in Missoula County – and $4.5 million for bridge construction across Montana.

In Montana, half of the money that’s taxed on coal goes into a permanent coal tax trust fund, said Andy Poole, a division administrator for the Montana Department of Commerce. Of that amount, 25 percent goes into the Big Sky Development Trust Fund, and its interest backs job creation and planning grants across Montana.

And when it comes to tapping the fund, Missoula is “a very active community,” Poole said.

***

The Bitter Root Economic Development District applies for funds on behalf of local businesses, and director Marcy Allen said BREDD is currently administering an estimated $2.4 million in job creation grants representing 225 qualifying jobs – and 274 total jobs. She said growth is often the most hazardous time for a business.

“So helping with financing and allowing a little more money for any other obstacles that might come up with that growth is really helpful,” Allen said.

The strong collaboration among local economic development agencies – BREDD, the Missoula Economic Partnership, the Montana Community Development Corp., and the city and county – has increased the amount of money Missoula receives, Allen said. She said the collaboration leads to strong projects backed with both dollars and technical assistance.

The grants aren’t a guarantee of success, she said, but a business doesn’t actually get the grant until the job is created. A formula based on Montana’s minimum and average wages dictates that the higher the wage, the more the support for the business.

The money can’t go directly toward salaries, but it can go toward, say, flooring and electrical wiring. To qualify, she said a business must be exporting more than 50 percent of its services out of the state.

“The way community wealth is created is by people manufacturing or producing some sort of service and selling it to people outside the region, hence, bringing outside money in,” Allen said.

Big Sky funds also support planning projects, including some $659,397 to Missoula since 2006, according to the Department of Commerce website. Some of that money leverages other dollars as well.

In 2013, BREDD secured a $26,500 grant to help the city of Missoula do a feasibility study on “next generation broadband.” Councilwoman Copple said a report is around the corner, and she said many financial sources are available should the project reach an implementation phase.

“(But) I was not aware of any other planning grants,” Copple said.

***

Long ago, the people of Montana made the choice to set up a fund for when coal was gone, said former state Sen. Ron Erickson of Missoula. That way, generations to come could continue to reap the benefits, unlike the way the riches from copper ended up in New York.

“Our decision in this state, and I think a really wise one, was to say the coal is eventually going to be gone,” said Erickson. “We need to set up a trust fund to do lots of good things for the state.”

In the past, he and other legislators have tried to set up similar funds for oil and gas, as other states do, but they haven’t met with success.

In the 1970s, people weren’t thinking about climate change, Erickson said. Now, he said, people know coal is a nonrenewable resource, and many also know it’s a resource that shouldn’t be used. It would take three-quarters of the entire Legislature to “bust the trust,” so even if coal use dries up and taxes dwindle, the trust funds remain.

“We’d be able to use the interest forever,” Erickson said.

Reach Keila Szpaller at @keilaszpaller, at keila.szpaller@missoulian.com or at (406) 523-5262.

Copyright 2015 missoulian.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(24) Comments

  1. Smiling
    Report Abuse
    Smiling - January 13, 2014 5:11 pm
    The truth is that most of the trains that will be carrying coal coming through Montana, if the new ports are approved, will be coal from Wyoming mines. Wyoming mines do not contribute to the funds listed in this article.
  2. Leadfoot
    Report Abuse
    Leadfoot - January 12, 2014 2:33 pm
    There is no political future for ANY candidate who does not support Montana's coal & oil industries. That is until the left wingers get elected. Then they cater to the leftist environmental groups until the next election. Montanans are taking names to see who is truly devoted to the best interests of Montana. The relatively new election law will force candidates to be honest when describing their opponent's voting record. Flip-flop votes within the last 6 yrs will, by law, be required to be published. This will help when Democrats in office try to become "sensitive" to Montanans' needs just before their re-election attempts.
  3. YBChat
    Report Abuse
    YBChat - January 12, 2014 9:01 am
    Extractive industries should be giving something back. After all, they are usually taking natural resources from our public lands and leaving a mess behind.
  4. Run - A- Mook
    Report Abuse
    Run - A- Mook - January 11, 2014 9:22 pm
    Have you ever seen a lib., without his hand out for a handout?
  5. Roswal
    Report Abuse
    Roswal - January 11, 2014 6:49 pm
    So we are supposed to be excited by coal because a couple Missoula businesses receive free money? Nonsense. Sheer, blithering nonsense.
  6. Loggerman
    Report Abuse
    Loggerman - January 11, 2014 3:01 pm
    Excellent comment! Right on!
  7. Logical1
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    Logical1 - January 11, 2014 2:14 pm
    Fantastic article.... and about time. We can all thank God and Mother Nature we have lots of coal and natural gas. Without them, we would be freezing our butts off!! When someone is freezing to death (or stuck in a huge ship, wedged by thick ice), they must be wondering... where is all that global warming when we really REALLY need it?
  8. slope
    Report Abuse
    slope - January 11, 2014 2:01 pm
    When these monies finally get to the Design and Building Phases of projects, LEED becomes the delivery method - adding cost, making the Project team believe they are sustainable and saving the earth. All with dirty coal money. Oxymoronic public policy.
  9. retiredmsla
    Report Abuse
    retiredmsla - January 11, 2014 1:50 pm
    It's good to get wisdom from Dr. Ericsson. The last time he was heard from with regard to environmental issues, the FBI was investigating him as part of a tree spiking scheme hatched in his program on the UM campus. Nice to know he's still assisting in environmental issues;-)
  10. Dubs
    Report Abuse
    Dubs - January 11, 2014 12:57 pm
    Yes, the height of hypocrisy. Not debating what they are, just the price.
  11. jus wundrin
    Report Abuse
    jus wundrin - January 11, 2014 12:46 pm
    Good article Keila. The vast natural resources of our state could provide good paying jobs for years to come, and $$$ for state infrastructure which will lessen the burden on the taxpayers.
  12. Roger
    Report Abuse
    Roger - January 11, 2014 11:01 am
    Ron Erickson followed the alarmist leftist agenda about climate change, which is based upon blatantly falsified data, and climate stations located on or near heat sinks such as asphalt, buildings, and other developed sites that do not provide a valid indication of air temperature. We're going to use coal, oil, and other natural sources of energy, regardless of the whiners and falsifiers. I guess Erickson is fine with using fabricated data to achieve a leftist goal - so students be aware of this guy - he's not a genuine scientist. Real scientists go where the data takes them, and ignore falsified studies like those of Michael Mann, the IPCC, and other agenda-driven people.
  13. Readneck
    Report Abuse
    Readneck - January 11, 2014 10:56 am
    At least we get some money from this poisonous industry. We can use it to help the government clean up the coal industry's next disaster. I wonder when people will be able drink their water in W.V.?
  14. Loggerman
    Report Abuse
    Loggerman - January 11, 2014 10:23 am
    Excellent comment!
  15. RPT
    Report Abuse
    RPT - January 11, 2014 8:49 am
    Just like with the wolf.. Follow the money... Coal may very well become the newest and latest 'cash-cow' for these groups of activist environmental elitists and their lawyers.
  16. Pistol
    Report Abuse
    Pistol - January 11, 2014 8:43 am
    There not activists. They are obstructionists. They shut down coal fired plants,and now they want to close coal plants in the far East. Why not set aside a % of coal revenue for research into cleaner means of coal use?
  17. observer
    Report Abuse
    observer - January 11, 2014 8:30 am
    The silence is deafening. If you have convictions, stick to 'em.
  18. edgegroove
    Report Abuse
    edgegroove - January 11, 2014 7:58 am
    "...the coal is eventually going to be gone." says professor Erickson. Fact: At the rate that we are currently taking coal out of the ground in Montana, there is enough coal within the borders of Montana to last for 600 more years. Environmentalists like Erickson have been claiming for literally decades that we are running out of fossil fuels. They've been saying that since at least the 1970's when they also predicted that we were going to have another ice age and population growth would have the world's inhabitants starving by the billions by the year 1990. It's time to tell these clowns to go back to their coloring books and leave the serious decisions up to serious people.
  19. walter12
    Report Abuse
    walter12 - January 11, 2014 6:18 am
    The American Leftist is always searching for new destructive causes, to attack coal is just another one of these foolish and stupid agendas that they come up with.
  20. taxman
    Report Abuse
    taxman - January 10, 2014 11:56 pm
    yep, you nailed it. same old story: big red state that hate those $, until it is time to line up to cash in. if it wasn't for CV oak and gas, then.....
  21. Slipper E
    Report Abuse
    Slipper E - January 10, 2014 11:41 pm
    Coal train. Musical tracks.
  22. Run - A- Mook
    Report Abuse
    Run - A- Mook - January 10, 2014 10:36 pm
    Short but sweet.
  23. Yz250
    Report Abuse
    Yz250 - January 10, 2014 8:54 pm
    Funny how these environmental groups are protesting this so hard, but are some of first ones to benefit from it. I bet they didn't realize this trust ever existed.
  24. Faxnlogicovremotnlhystria
    Report Abuse
    Faxnlogicovremotnlhystria - January 10, 2014 8:07 pm
    Got to love the irony.
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