Why Didn't Attorney General Fox File Rate Case Testimony by June 30th Deadline?

The Colstrip Steam Electric Station on a warm summer day.

The June 30th deadline for submitting testimony in the current Washington rate case has come and gone, but our Attorney General did not file. So what gives? After news of this broke, many people were left wanting answers. Colstrip United went on a weeklong search for those answers. On Saturday, July 22nd, the Billings Gazette published an article on the subject, dramatically titled “Montana lawmakers shocked that attorney general didn't testify in Colstrip shutdown” by Tom Lutey. But was there really a lot of “shock?” We decided to ask a few people whose views were not included in the Gazette article. We started with Colstrip’s Senator Duane Ankney of district 20. Ankney said that a large piece of this puzzle was the death of SB 338 during the session. The bill, sponsored by Ankney, defined what decommissioning costs are. Without it, the Washington Utility and Transportation Commission has the ability to define what decommissioning costs are. “The June 30th deadline was for filing of expert witness testimony and at this time the information was incomplete and couldn’t be filed. In order to complete that information, they would have had to put a dollar amount to the socioeconomic costs involved. This is not something they were ready to do, especially without SB 338.” Ankney said after speaking numerous times with the AG’s office. But what about HB 22, the bill that appropriated the $80,000 to aid in intervention? We asked the bill’s sponsor, Representative Jim Keane from Butte, what would happen to the money. “That money is still available. They are still going to use that money on behalf of Montana.” Keane said. “My concern is that the Washington Utility and Transportation Commission is not going to help the people of Montana because 338 did not pass. That bill would have given the AG standing to say what the socioeconomic costs would be.” “Some of the people that were quoted in the Gazette article were the very ones that voted against SB 338” Keane said. “They voted against it saying it would be bad for business. The thing that bothers me, is what business have they brought to Montana since 338 was killed? Show me business that they have brought in since that date. “ So what can our state still do in this case?

Montana can still question witnesses of other interveners and cross examine witnesses like those from the Sierra Club. They can also still file testimony by the deadline on August 9th—a deadline that was unmentioned in the Billings Gazette article.

According to the article, AG Fox’s staff had told the Gazette that not filing on June 30th had been intentional. If that is the case, our only question is this: Why didn’t they let anyone know about this decision until after the deadline had passed? When we spoke with AG office staff members they admitted that part could have been handled a little better. However, they were adamant that the Attorney General’s office is still very much involved in the case. Montana will be represented at the hearing and if there ends up being a settlement conference our state will be represented there as well. The AG’s office still plans on filing testimony by the August 9th deadline at which time concerns on behalf of the city of Colstrip will be raised. “Attorney General Fox is working with the Governor’s office, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, legislators and others to develop strategies that will put Montana in the driver’s seat to determine, in a Montana forum, what PSE (Puget Sound Energy) owes the state and the town of Colstrip.” said Eric Sell with the Attorney General’s office. Two Points To Remember: Let’s not forget how we got to where we are: Environmental groups using sue and settle tactics to shut down coal fired power plants. These groups are the primary culprits, and everyone interested in the fate of Colstrip should remember that.

It is also important to not lose sight of what this rate case really is, and what it is not.

PSE’s rate case before the Washington Utilities Commission is a regulatory proceeding that determines how much PSE can charge its customers. It is NOT the process in which the Colstrip clean-up and other “exit” costs will ultimately be determined. All costs for decommissioning and remediation of units 1 & 2 of the Colstrip Steam Electric Station, as well as other costs, will be determined by Montana, in a Montana forum, and these costs will most likely be determined after the conclusion of the current PSE rate case.

In its rate case filings before the WUTC, Puget Sound Energy admits that the closure costs of Colstrip are not yet determined.

This current PSE rate case has been falsely portrayed as the “process overseeing the shutdown of Colstrip.” The current rate case is just one regulatory proceeding in which Colstrip is being discussed. Important proceedings regarding Colstrip are yet to come and will occur in Montana.

Colstrip United will be closely watching that August 9th deadline as we’re sure many other people and groups will be. Until then, we will keep gathering information from the Attorney Generals’ office, our local legislators, and community leaders.

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