Rosebud Mine, Westmoreland Coal Company, Colstrip, Climate

The Colstrip Power Plant sits on the eastern edge of Colstrip in this 2019 Chronicle file photo. 

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A carbon-pricing proposal from the Montana Climate Solutions Council has become a flashpoint in the tight U.S. Senate race between Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock and incumbent Republican Steve Daines.

The council’s carbon-pricing proposal suggests the state work with its congressional delegation and other national organizations on federal legislation about a carbon cap or price in order to lower carbon emissions and generate revenue that could bolster the state’s economy, according to a draft posted on the Department of Environmental Quality website. The council also recommends the state consider developing a regional or statewide carbon-pricing strategy.

The Daily Caller published an article about the carbon-pricing proposal last week, citing a leaked copy of the council’s final recommendations, which have been partially available on the DEQ website for several weeks.

Daines shared the Daily Caller article on Twitter on Wednesday and has tweeted about the carbon-pricing proposal a few times since. He said the proposal “will kill MT jobs and wreck our rural economies and communities.”

He also sent a letter to Bullock, criticizing the carbon-pricing proposal as “reckless.” He called on Bullock to reject the proposal and instead “maintain our all-of-the-above energy approach.”

Daines suggested that instead of carbon pricing, Montana encourage innovation, such as developing carbon capture technologies and bolstering energy storage, both of which are also among the council’s recommendations.

Bullock fired back on Twitter.

“As a governor, I have consistently brought together diverse groups of Montanans to find bipartisan solutions,” he wrote. “This is an attack on these collaborative efforts and knowingly dishonest to the people of Montana.”

Bullock also sent Daines a letter.

“Although it may be campaign season, your attack on me and my office also attacks the work of this council,” Bullock wrote. “On its face I read it as a reprehensible display of politics, indicative of your limited capacity to tackle a challenging issue facing our state and our nation, and unfortunately, unsurprisingly consistent with your tenure.”

Daines and Bullock are locked in a heated, competitive race. If Bullock wins, he could help Democrats flip the Senate.

The Montana Climate Solutions Council formed in July 2019 as the result of an executive order. The council met several times over the following months before releasing draft recommendations on tackling climate change in February.

The council then accepted public comment on the draft until March 31.

The council has spent the last few months reviewing the comments and crafting a final report, which will detail policy recommendations for how the state can adapt to the changing climate, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, develop new technologies and transition to a greener economy.

The council’s carbon-pricing proposal came from its greenhouse gas mitigation subcommittee, which voted to include it in the list of recommended policies on a 7-3 vote. In general, carbon-pricing policies are intended to reduce carbon emissions by charging those responsible for the emissions.

Those who voted for the proposal include representatives of environmental groups as well as from DEQ. Those who voted against the recommendation represent NorthWestern Energy, electric cooperatives and oil and gas companies.

The carbon-pricing proposal is one of dozens the council has put forward. Others include forming the Montana Climate Solutions Network to create and share climate-related resources, developing tax incentives for renewable energy development and preparing the workforce for the state’s changing economy.

Council member Patrick Holmes, who is also Bullock’s natural resource policy advisor, will present the group’s policy recommendations to the Environmental Quality Council, a state legislative committee, on Sept. 9.

Ultimately, it will be up to the next governor, the state Legislature, the Montana University System, businesses and nonprofits to decide whether to implement the council’s recommendations.

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Perrin Stein can be reached at pstein@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2648.

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