Missoulian State Bureau Committee to meet next week in Missoula

HELENA - Two state representatives who serve on the House Business and Labor Committee said they will hold informal hearings on the proposed Montana Power Co. sale in five locations around the state.

Announcing the hearings were Rep. Bruce Simon, R-Billings, who is the chairman of the committee, and Rep. David Ewer, D-Helena, a member of the panel.

Both men are running for state auditor this year and face primary opponents. Ewer said that no state money will be spent to conduct the hearings, and no legislative staff members will be involved. Saying the hearings are unrelated to his campaign, "I would be doing this regardless," Ewer said.

"Everyone has a stake in this issue which is of enormous magnitude," Ewer said, "Small businesses, homeowners, schools and ranchers, our entire economy, is impacted by electricity. MPC's announced sale has raised considerable concerns and deserves bipartisan cooperation and leadership to accomplish the best outcome for the people of Montana."

Said Simon: "These hearings will be very informal in nature. I believe these hearings will provide an opportunity for the interested members of the Montana House Business and Labor Committee to hear the concerns expressed by the citizens of Montana."

Montana Power Co. announced March 28 it was selling its energy businesses as a stock sale and hopes to have the deal done in six to 12 months. Instead, the Butte-based company intends to concentrate exclusively on its fast-growing telecommunications subsidiary, Touch America. Up for sale are its electric transmission lines, natural gas pipelines and its coal, oil and natural gas commodity businesses.

So far, Gov. Marc Racicot has not decided whether to include the matter in the special session he is calling for May 8. Meanwhile, Montana Power has said state regulatory officials have no jurisdiction over the sale and the proceeds, although they can rule on the fitness of the proposed buyers. The state Public Service Commission has said it has jurisdiction, but Commissioner Bob Anderson, D-Helena, backed away from that conclusion after hearing a Montana Power briefing Thursday.

The lawmakers said in a joint press release they believe this is the first time that a legislative committee has had oversight hearings like the ones scheduled.

If you're interested

Informal hearings by the House Business and Labor Committee into the proposed sale of Montana Power Co. will take place from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. during the next few weeks in these locations:

€ Missoula: Wednesday, University of Montana, Health Services Building, Room 207.

€ Great Falls: Thursday, county commission chambers, Great Falls Civic Center.

€ Butte: April 25, county courthouse's council chambers on third floor.

€ Bozeman: April 28, county courthouse, county commission chambers.

€ Billings: May 1, county commission chambers.

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