Saturday, July 18, 2009

Energy, Carbon, and Water


Last week, I attended a conference of the Pacific Northwest Economic Region (PNWER), made up of northwestern states and Canadian provinces. Montana is a member of PNWER.

I participated in energy and environment sessions, and learned more details of treaties and water agreements between the US and Canada, a newly-signed carbon sequestration agreement between Saskatchewan and Montana, and water marketing. Our region--especially Montana and the provinces that border it on the north, British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan--is actively engaged in important energy and environmental policies and initiatives.

During the last legislative session that adjourned just seventy-five days ago, I served as Vice Chair of the House Natural Resources committee, which considered many bills about water quality and quantity and the importance of keeping our waters and watersheds intact, protected, and available for responsible use. The committee also considered some bills about carbon capture and sequestration, the process of capturing carbon dioxide (and other) emissions from fossil fuel production and then finding deep saline aquifers or basalt deposits and piping or injecting the carbon dioxide deep underground, so that it doesn't further degrade the atmosphere. At the PNWER conference, I asked about the new agreement between Montana and Saskatchewan for Montana to dispose of (store) thousands of tons of carbon piped down from Canada. Who owns the minerals and elements (the carbon)? Who has the liability for the storage, or any ill effects, or leaks? The question of ownership is important. In Canada, mineral rights are retained by the national government, but in the US, property rights are retained almost always by the surface owner of the land. The problem--or complication--is that natural formations don't end at state or province or land parcel borders.

The House Natural Resources committee considered many bills proposed by the 2007-8 Fire Suppression Interim Committee, so while I was at the PNWER conference in Boise, I visited the InterAgency Fire Center. The center is built on 55 acres in Boise and combines all the federal agencies in a single spot for fire management.

Next week, I'll serve on national committees at another conference; the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). There is much to know about neighboring states' and provinces' policies and how they affect Montana.

In discussions on water policy and water pollution flowing from Canada to Montana, and the importance of considering watersheds, not necessarily state and provincial borders, I said at the PNWER conference, "Water doesn't honor borders. We need to consider watersheds as regions and develop our policies around the watershed." I'll work to do that.

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