Montana Senators lobby for coal production tax credit revival

Billings Gazette

by Tom Lutey

Montana’s U.S. senators are attempting to revive the Indian coal production tax credit, used by the Apsaalooke Nation to promote coal mining on the Crow Indian Reservation.

“At a time when we are all focused on job creation, we believe extending this tax credit plays an important role in achieving that goal for tribes that face a significantly higher unemployment rate,” said Sens. Jon Tester and John Walsh, D-Mont., in a letter to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

Wyden is expected next month to consider reviving several tax breaks that expired at the end of 2013 as part of the year-end expiration of U.S. fiscal policy known as the “fiscal cliff.” The coal production tax credit, renewed at the end of each year, was one of several tax breaks that weren’t renewed.

On the Crow Indian Reservation, where according to state labor statistics unemployment is 25 percent, households with coal mining income can earn more than $70,000 a year. The coal income tax credit gave Westmoreland Coal $2.26 for every ton of coal mined until the end of 2013. Since the tax credit expired, Tribal Chairman Darrin Old Coyote has been expressing concern that the Crow coal economy would be suffer.

In the Senate, tax credits used to be within the purview of former Montana Sen. Max Baucus. The Democrat was chairman of Senate Finance and architect of a tax reform package expected to be completed by the end of 2014. Baucus had planned to craft a new tax credit for energy production, including coal mining, but the senator of 36 years stepped down in February to become U.S. ambassador to China.

Whether the coal production tax credit is revived is now up to Wyden, whose Oregon constituents have worked to eliminate energy produced from coal from their power supply in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Environmental groups in Oregon are pressuring the state to reject permit applications for Columbia River export terminals that would load China-bound freighters with Montana and Wyoming Powder River Basin coal.