Handing Eminent Domain to Northwestern Energy Brings Fear & Loathing to Helena Montana

by jhwygirl

Once again, Montana is at a crossroads of importance with regards to the amount of power our legislators will hand to a private company for private gain.

Oddly, you’d think that the concept of handing over condemnation rights for the private property of Montana citizens to a private corporations wouldn’t fly in a GOP-controlled legislature, but here we are with HB198, a bill requested by Democrat Governor Schweitzer. This ugly bill passed the House on a 69 – 30 vote on third reading (having gained a few from second reading where the vote was 56 – 44.

That’s quite a gain from second to third reading, over a period of 3 days. Clearly pressure is on.

Opposition to this bill, like support, is bi-partisan. Drum-beating House conservatives like Steve Fitzpatrick (R-Great Falls), Janna Taylor (R-Dayton), Wendy Warburton (R-Havre) and Wayne Stahl (R-Saco) voted in support of handing over condemnation rights to private corporations…..as did Democrats Robyn Driscoll (D-Billings), Carolyn Squires (D-Missoula), Betsy Hands (D-Missoula) and Mike Phillips (D-Bozeman).

So we have Republicans wanting to expand condemnation and eminent domain rights, and we have Dems handing the keys to private corporations. Both are doing so with Governor Schweitzer cheering from the sidelines.

Every hearing, along with the floor debate, has been pretty heated – rightfully so, I might add. Montana is taking its newest resource – wind – and leaving it largely unregulated (unlike coal oil gas gold silver timber and hell, even gravel and CO2 storage rights) in terms of ownership, development rights and taxation, and handing over condemnation rights for transport of this resource to private corporations.

Colonialism? Stupidity? Laziness?

It’s a disgrace of the 2011 legislature and any advocate for this bill that the solution here wasn’t to look for protections for the private property owner here in the state, but that the solution was to rewrite laws concerning eminent domain in the easiest laziest and most invasive way as possible, handing over the courts to private corporations.

A disgrace.

What’s even more disappointing is that two Missoula legislators are co-sponsors of HB198: Senators Ron Erickson and Tom Facey.

Senator Ron Erickson support is apparently unwavering. He recently told Concerned Citizens for Montana and the Northern Plains Resource Council that he intends to vote “Yes” on the bill on the “environmental promise of corporate wind.”

Really Senator Erickson? Disappointing doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt when I read that.

Maybe Erickson missed this editorial from PSC commissioner John Vincent.

Make no mistake – wheeling and dealing and some pretty serious horse trading is going on with regards to this bill. The Governor wants this bill, along with Northwestern Energy, one of Montana’s largest lobbying interests here in Montana. The money they dump into both state-level and federal-level elections is astounding. In fact, I recall a delicious steak-and-eggs breakfast in Denver 2008 that was paid for by Northwestern Energy. Don’t think that the Republicans didn’t get the same treatment at their own convention that year.

Rumor has it that this bill is such the objet d’affection of Schweitzer that he has agreed to trade his support of HB439 (a nice porky bonding bill that was fattened with an additional $7.9 million to MSU – which might explain the support coming out of the Bozeman Democrats) in order to get the votes for HB198.

The Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee is meeting tomorrow at 11 am to do executive action on HB198. The goal is to get this to the floor as quickly and with as little fanfare as possible. Chair Alan Olson (R-Roundup) believes he has has the votes necessary in his committee to move this forward. That means he believes he has the majority of these votes:
Vice Chair: Verdell Jackson (R-Kalispell)
Vice Chair: Ron Erickson (D-Missoula)
Shannon Augare (D-Browning)
Jeff Essmann (R-Billings)
Bob Lake (R-Hamilton)
Lynda Moss (D-Billings)
Jason Priest (R-Red Lodge)
Mitch Tropila (D-Great Falls)
Kendall Van Dyk (D-Billings)
Chas Vincent (R-Libby)
Edward Walker (R-Billings)

Well, boy – you’d think that looking at this, Verdell Jackson, Bob Lake and Chas Vincent would be difficult to get…and we already know that Ron Erickson has decided where he is going on this bill. Jason Priest? Isn’t he supposed to be some conservative?

And what about Democrats Linda Moss and Kendall Van Dyk?

This bill is such a mess and the politics behind it are ugly. If approved, Montanans will be talking about this bill much like we still talk about the dismantling of Montana Power into the hands of corporate ownership.

Democrats are betting on Montanans remembering this being done under the GOP controlled House and Senate, while the corporate-loving GOP is betting on being able to blame it all on Schweitzer, who will, it appears, gladly sign this bothersome behemoth into law.

In the end, it’s Montana private property owners that are on the losing end.

Information on contacting your legislators can be found here.

You can also contact the entire Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee by calling 406-444-4800 and leaving a message.

The legislative desk begins taking calls at 7:30 a.m.

  1. Turner

    This bill sounds unconstitutional to me. How can a foreign (Canadian) corporation condemn the property of Americans to make a profit?

    Isn’t there a sovereignty question?

  2. joan amundson

    Why are some lawmakers so eager to sell Montanans down the river? This is about our private property rights…not lining the pockets of unregulated, for-profit utilities that could give a damn about citizens. Those who vote for HB 198 will be voted out of office. It will be the ultimate insult to Montanans. Some legislators just don’t get it! Shame on them for being so cavalier with our private property rights.


    NO on 198. IS this a NAZI nation.?? NO on 198.

  4. Hanneman

    It is correct to draw the analogy between HB 198 and the deregulation of Montana Power because we are back dealing with the same entities that wanted to operate within the free market. They can’t have it both ways. Either they operate in the free market without the power of eminent domain or they exist under the shelter of regulation with the power of eminent domain. As for our state legislators – you bet we will remember who voted for HB 198. And I don’t think the public will differentiate between republican or democrat – whoever sold out our property rights will face an angry voting public.

    • “…we are back dealing with the same entities that wanted to operate within the free market. They can’t have it both ways. Either they operate in the free market without the power of eminent domain or they exist under the shelter of regulation with the power of eminent domain.”

      You are absolutely correct, Hanneman. I pointed that out here.

      The free market is dead. It’s long been dead, tucked in with subsidy and corporate personhood protections.


      Dangerous hypocrites.

  5. steve

    Our own Representatives selling us out…..can you believe it??
    No on HB 198…..

  6. Ingemar Johansson

    Friends of mine remember during the contentious campaign between Brown and Van Dyke the supporters of Kendal talking points were, “you can’t vote for Brown, he’s an oil man”.

    Well the Dykester is a BIG POWER CORPORATION man.

  7. HB 198 is the WORST bill of the session. Why do legislators want to vote for a bill that gives out-of-state and Canadian corporations the right of eminent domain and takes away the right of property owners to keep and protect their land? Legislators are voted in to take the pressure. It will be telling to see who resists the deals. It will speak volumes about personal integrity and it will mean the lawmaker actually took the time to understand that this bill is incredibly bad for Montanans.

  8. John Vincent

    As a life long Montana Democrat who served two terms as Speaker of the Montana House of Representatives, I almost can’t believe what’s going on with HB 198. Republican’s, at least to date, have shown their true colors as out of state corporate type Republicans rather than defenders of their own constituents private property rights. Too many of my Democratic friends have shown themselves to be too closely hitched to the governor, over sold on wind (see the referenced op/ed) and too tight politically with “Big Wind.” Also, easy marks for corporate influence. And that’s what bothers me the most. I never thought I’d see the day when Democrats would roll over and play dead for corporations, and that’s exactly what too many of them are doing on 198, including the governor. Hey, cut it anyway you want, under current Montana law, if 198 passes The State of Montana will have turned over and given, yes given, the right of eminent domain to private corporations, the people be damned. Anyone who says different is full of bullshit and my tolerance for bullshit is zero and dropping.
    John Vincent (D)
    Montana Public Service Commissioner

  9. first i would like the state of montana to declare eminent domain over northwest energy first. take it back and sue goldman sachs and mark racicot and whatever is left of enron for stealing it in the first place.

    privatization of eminent domain laws and granting private companies the right to take another private property should never be an option. it should be strictly a tool that the government uses and then only very judiciously after looking at all the impacts involved. the private property rights of montana’s citizens should not be allowed to be trampled simply for profit or expediency no matter how desirable the project may be.

    i don’t trust corporations like northwest energy to do the right thing for us (the ratepayers) nor do i trust them to do the right thing for the farmers and ranchers along this route.

  10. sara

    this bill is about corporate greed. period. vote no on HB 198.

  11. Don Kronenberger

    Wishful jobs hype is being worn as a fig leaf by nominally conservative state legislators who would sacrifice Montanans’ property rights to private merchant/export transmission ventures.

    If the fig leaf works tomorrow, lobbyists for corporate interests representing under 2% of Montana workers will have steamrolled more than 98% of Montana workers.

    I attended a presentation in January by Dr. Larry Swanson, Director of the O’Conner Center for the Rocky Mountain West, at the Montana’s Energy Future Summit in Helena (full presentation at http://www.energyfuturemontana.org/2011/presentations/MTEnergyConference2011A.pdf).

    According to Dr. Swanson, “Sectors of the economy that are directly tied to energy production and distribution (utilities, oil and gas exploration and production, coal production, refineries, pipelines, etc.) are a relatively small part of the Montana economy, together accounting for less than 2% of all employment and 5% of all labor earnings… Their growth is not ‘driving’ growth in the larger economy.”

    He continues, “‘Energy spending’ and not ‘energy producing’ is where energy as a whole has its biggest impact on the Montana economy.”

    Further, Swanson reports, “Energy expenditures by residential, commercial, and industrial consumers in Montana reached nearly $6 billion in 2009 –roughly equivalent to 17% of state-wide personal income.”

    Such data makes clear that energy costs loom large for that 98% of Montana workers who receive no benefit but are nonetheless likely to bear significant costs and rate risks from merchant/export lines like Mountain States Transmission Intertie (MSTI).

    Once again, Montanans should be reminded that the draft Environmental Impact Statement for MSTI states that permanent in-state jobs from MSTI would be “insignificant.” NorthWestern Energy’s lobbyist, John Fitzpatrick, has told legislators that permanent Montana jobs from MSTI would number about 6 to 8. That’s not impressive for $1 billion.

    And there are no off-ramps from MSTI in Montana, hence no public use.

  12. The two words I don’t see written here are JUST COMPENSATION –

    Tell me jhwygirl, are you really worried about people getting rooked out of property, or do you just hate powerlines ?

    • Wow Eric…
      Why don’t you talk to the ranchers who have been handed pink slips by NWE. Fair market value, as defined by NWE, stinks. Imagine being told you will get $800 smackers per grazing acre (one time payment) and you can’t replace it for less than $32,000 per acre. Imagine you are a 5th generation rancher whose land will be radiating with EMFs under the line, and so much so you can’t irrigate beneath it, build beneath it, and your ranch equipment won’t operate beneath it. This is documented by NWE. How incredibly special. Imagine, as one property has found out, that his granddaughter won’t be able to visit him because her pacemaker will malfunction. Don’t even get me started about the harm to livestock or wildlife corridors. Tell me Eric, are you really worried about the private profits of NWE and MATL, or to you just hate hardworking Montana farmers, ranchers and families ?

    • Eric – I am bothered by the rewriting of a basic tenant of eminent domain: the lack of any real public benefit.

      Eminent domain/taking/condemnation is a power that should be executed prudently – with some political entity laying claim to that public benefit and doing so as a conduit between the private entity and the entity exercising the public use.

      It isn’t about money – if it were, Tonbridge (a Canadian Company) would just offer a landowner more and more until they got what they wanted. Certainly, they have the option of operating within the free market, don’t they?

      But that’s not what they want – they want to maximize their profit and they want to do so at the expense of private property owners. The free market doesn’t work so well for them. Apparently.

      And they’ve asked our elected officials for the keys to the law books so that the judges have the right laws withing which to rule.

      You were a champion of Kelo?

    • Don Kronenberger

      The “just compensation” canard ignores the fact that properties near the gigantic lines (but not directly crossed by them) are devalued significantly while receiving no compensation. Impacted communities like Whitehall would have the proposed MSTI dominate roadway entrances to the community on the north, west, east, and south sides. Everyone pays. Hardly anyone’s compensated.

    • joan amundsen


      Have you seen any studies about job deconstruction as a result of the lines? Probably not. NWE and MATL haven’t created any. Not only will private property owners be impacted…so will the businesses that support agriculture, tourism, real estate, recreation and more. The job and revenue loss will be serious. Mr. Kronenberger is also right about property values. Look at the MATL maps. If corporations get eminent domain laws you too could get big, huge, hissing 185-foot-tall 500kV lines littering your land and taking away your livelihood for their shareholders. Seriously, do you support corporate private profits over landowner rights?

      Eric, are you worried about unregulated utilities making profits on the backs of Montanans…or do you just hate that people are sticking up for what is right, fair and constitutional?

    • Ingemar Johansson

      Eric, see my comment.

      5 excellent stars. Winning!!

  13. It seems that we have an issue here between the Montana citizens that are fighting to maintain their rights as private land owners (opposing HB 198) vs. the elected officials that are owned by large private corporations, hereinafter known as tyrants (those fighting to support HB198 and the profits of large corporations … read that as North-West Energy ….. at the expense of landowners and their children / grand-children and great-grandchildren that WOULD HAVE inherited the land to perpetuate the stewardship. blood, sweat and tears that put it all together).

    Abraham Lincoln summed it up best –

    “We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself, and the product of his labor; while with others, the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of other men’s labor. Here are two, not only different, but incompatible things, called by the same name—liberty. And it follows that each of the things is, by the respective parties, called by two different and incompatible names—liberty and tyranny.”

    Abraham Lincoln, 1864

  14. lizard19

    great post, great comments!

  15. Brenda

    I cannot believe how this is being pushed through. I had confidence in the privacy and independence of the Montana people. Do our elected representatives not understand that we don’t want this??!

    • the politicians (including gov schweitzer) pushing for this monstrosity don’t think the people know what is best for them. brenda. they think the people don’t care. it is up to us to let them know tomorrow with a phone call to the governor and to your representatives that we know what is best for the people. and we care about it.

  16. Rob Thomas

    Please call or e-mail these folks in Helena before it is too late. I am not a landowner who will be directly impacted by HB 198, but as a decent, caring person (and left of center), I know this to be wrong. Really, is this the 19th century or what? Our courts made corporations “people” and now we are going to give them the right to take a person’s land for profit? How do these legislators sleep? Well my friends, get ready for candidates who will run against you in the next cycle who value the rights of citizens, because we will find them and see that you not have to be burdened with Helena two years from now. Do not underestimate our resolve….

  17. petetalbot

    This is a tough one for me. After reading the post and comments, I’m worried about this bill — eminent domain v. clean energy. But Sen. Ron Erickson supports it. He’s one of the best senators in the legislature and Rep. Betsy Hands is no slouch, either. What gives?

    Northwestern Energy isn’t as malevolent as Montana Power under Bob Gannon. However, precedents will be set.

    And Democrats need to follow through on jobs issues, too, and green jobs trump the Republican’s plan to repeal environmental standards for the extractive industries.

    I’d like more input from the proponents of HB-198 — Erickson, Facey, Hands — maybe something PSC’s Gutsche (not just Vincent). Please.

    • Don Kronenberger

      Good question about Sen. Ron Erickson, petetelbot. Where is he coming from???? I heard him speak at “Montana’s Energy Future Summit” against Republican legislators for disbelieving the science on climate change. I agree with Sen. Erickson that they’re wrong.

      But has Sen. Erickson read the DEIS for MSTI? It says on page one that MSTI is to export “wind and coal” generation. There are no clean energy subscribers for the MSTI line listed in the DEIS, and a fair number of dirty subscribers. In any case, there are not enough subscribers of any kind to establish need for the line – also stated clearly in the DEIS.

      There’s a wish that these gigantic power lines will be filled with renewable energy. But people who respect science and reason should know, “Wishing don’t make it so.”

      • Don Kronenberger

        And one more thing. Now that MEPA is likely to be gutted, are we sure we can trust the usual suspects with all this enlarged comdemnation power?

        After HB 198, I predict the only windmills in Montana will be the ones snookered Democrats are “tilting at …” Come Sancho Panza …

    • Rob Thomas

      I am not a proponent, but I am a resource scientist and a liberal. Corporate wind increases global warming because a small amount of a 500Kv line can be wind (because it doesn’t always blow). So to fill the line, more coal must be burned than would have without the wind mills and the transmission lines! Really, if you support corporate-scale wind, you support increasing our carbon footprint in Montana. I wish it were not the case, but it is what it is…Rob

  18. Joe Tugaw

    It is appalling to me that politicians (read that as Rep. Ken Peterson, Gov. Brian Schweitzer et. al.) and political interests (read that as NWE and MATL in this case) can be so intent on securing profits (both corporate and personal), jobs and political power that they are willing to usurp the rights of U.S. citizens.

    When I reflect on the 1,190,098 American citizens that have given their lives to protect the freedoms and rights afforded us by the U.S. Constitution, amendments thereto and our Bill of Rights, it fuels a passion in me to continue to protect what so many have made the supreme sacrifice for against those that would erode the rights of US citizens for their own pleasure and gain. It is incumbent upon us as citizens to give our all to protect the rights afforded us by our Forefathers.

    Montana HB 198 is a direct affront to the rights of US citizens that own land in Montana. It is a bold attempt to erode the rights of US citizens in favor of foreign interests and the profitability of a few. The citizens of Montana MUST fight back against the reckless few that wield the power to erode their rights.

    I urge Montana citizens to take immediate action to stop the reckless agenda of those in power.

  19. Hester Dillon

    NO on HB 198. HB 198 is unacceptable for Montana and it’s particularly unacceptable that our elected officials have given it so much consideration in light of the detrimental effects it will hand residents. Looks like Montana politicians are no different than those at the federal level: held captive by corporate money.

  20. Rob Thomas

    I am a geology prof who teaches sustainable resource management. The corporate scale wind will NOT help our climate crisis! No matter how good it makes my green friends feel, it is bad science. About 60% of the energy shipped to LA is lost from the line (that’s the buzzing noise and the heat). Worse yet, you can only count on about 30% of the line carrying wind (it doesn’t always blow), so to fill the line the remainder in our state will be coal…that’s 70%. This means that corporate wind drives more coal burning and increases global warming. It’s about money. NWE knows it, the Gov knows it and I know it. If you support corporate wind, you support global warming…it’s that simple.

    • mr benson

      Locally produced power would be what, with today’s technology?

      What kind of power plant can be capitalized at a local level that provides power efficiently?

      Accepting that “corporate wind” (or presumably and more accurately given subsidies and eminent domain, government wind”) isn’t the answer, that is, what is the answer to increasing our power supply, and replacing power generation by burning fossil fuels with a different source of power?

  21. Roberta Raffety

    Vote no on HB 198!!! We are ranchers. This is our family’s livelihood. The family ranch is becoming endangered and this is going to have far reaching impacts in terms of our number one industry, agriculture!! The corruption going on in our legislature disgusts me.

  22. Snow job

    Corporatized wind does not equal green energy. There are so many studies about how corporate wind is a cover for coal. The WSJ has published many excellent articles: http://www.ncpa.org/sub/dpd/index.php?Article_ID=19740. Erickson is on his way out as is Betsy Hand. They are completely out of touch with global realities about corporate wind. Put a little wind on a coal-soaked line and utilities get lots and lots of taxpayer subsidies. Wind is awesome and it doesn’t need to be transported on 500kV lines. Isn’t that cool? And if it’s made available close to the source, you don’t lose 30 percent en route. That’s even better. And then ratepayers don’t have to absorb the cost of an infrastructure to transport brown energy to make huge profits for utilities while violating the rights and livelihood of citizens. I WAS A PROPONENT until I started reading about the failure of corporate wind to deliver on the promise of jobs, reduced CO2 emissions, and revenue in Spain, the UK, and the eastcoast. HB 198 is a rotten bill and Erickson, Facey, Hands and Gutsche have lost their honor and credibility on this issue.

  23. John Francis D.

    Brian Schweitzer’s quest for appointment to head one of the federal, pseudo-protective agencies (like Dept. of Energy or Interior) is looking clear as day with SB 198. Double-talk greenwashing to deepen the coal industry’s pockets at the expense of big sky environmental health and beauty should not be tolerated. OPPOSE SB 198.

  24. Joshua Sharp

    First: I think the amount of people who think (R) or (D) makes any difference is (thankfully) falling with each new act stupidity by these self-serving bastards. I hope it used to be different – because that would mean something else is possible.

    Second: HB198 is a flaming pile of crap. It’d be nice if some attorney could find a reason to boot from office anyone who voted for it… surely they are breaching some part of their official duties?

    I wish all the legislative ‘help’ would just take a check to go home… they’d do less damage.

  25. Rex Campbell

    Rumors are that there are deals being made over the table,under the table,etc. in regards to HB 198.I realize this is part of politics,but there are times when a person has to stand firm for what is right.No one is arguing that there is not a need for eminent domain.It is already a law that state governments can take private property for the good of the people.Private companies should not have this right.HB 198 would be opening up Pandora’s Box.Where does it stop?Private companies in Montana,out-of-state companies,foreign companies,etc. could take private property at their whim.This is not right.

  26. Hoomai29

    It’s a takings bill, pure and simple, to grab the huge power corridors that George Bush wanted. The farmers and ranchers should be tbhe ones screaming about this. You want power corridors? Run direct current lines down the interstates and railroads. Oh, and make them publically owned so Northwestern can’t screw us as usual.

  27. Joan Amundson

    This has been an outstanding dialog. Lawmakers read your comments. Tonight there is an article by Mike Dennison “Eminent Domain Law Killed” running in Montana dailies. The bill isn’t completely dead. The gov and those senators with ties to MATL and NWE are lobbying up a hurricane tonight. There will be another meeting of the Senate Energy and Telecommunications committee tomorrow at 3 pm (if they strong arm some votes, the bill will be blasted to the floor for a final vote). We’ll get to see who bends to pressure and who has integrity. In addition to this blog, lawmakers will be reading the articles listed below. Think about sharing your thoughts online at these newspapers tonight. I think, maybe, just maybe, lawmakers are listening to citizens? Could it be we are making a difference? Shazaam!





  1. 1 Privatizing Montana, Again « 4&20 blackbirds

    […] All eyes are on Senate Energy & Telecommunications today as they take executive action on HB198. […]

  2. 2 Big Push on Eminent Domain Bill HB198 « 4&20 blackbirds

    […] like I wrote yesterday, please take the time to contact members of the Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee and […]

  3. 3 Montana Blog Roundup 17 April 2011 | Intelligent Discontent

    […] always, jhwygirl offers in-depth looks at issues that simply don’t get enough attention in the media or on other blogs. Her look at HB 198 […]

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