Panel Oks Northern energy program

Havre Daily News

by John Kelleher

A proposed $200,000 federal grant that would enable Montana State University-Northern to undertake a program to train people in energy fields has cleared a major U.S. Senate hurdle.

The proposal won approval from the Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday.

Sponsored by U.S. Sen.  Jon Tester, D-Mont., the proposal now heads to the Senate floor.  Tester, a member of the Appropriations Committee, said he hopes the proposal will be voted on by the end of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

"I think this will be good for Northern and good for Montana," Tester said.

The program would train students and re-train older workers in energy fields ranging from biofuels to wind energy to coal, he said.

"This is a training program that will help people get jobs," Tester said.

Working with all forms of energy will "help Montana become a world leader in energy development," Tester said.

The program would be operated by Northern, and some of the training would take place at Montana State University Billings and the Great Falls College of Technology, Tester said this morning.

"We are talking cutting-edge stuff," he said.

The program will help people move into quality, well-paying jobs, Tester said.

He said he expected Senate approval of the plan.

"The biggest challenge we face is the people who vote no on everything," he said, but that he was sure the proposal would receive bipartisan support.

It would then go to a conference committee to reconcile the Senate spending plan with the budget approved by the House of Representatives.

The House-passed legislation won't include the money for Northern, since Rep.  Dennis Rehberg, like most of his Republican colleagues, has sworn off "earmarks" for the current legislative session.

But Tester aide Aaron Murphy said he hoped the appropriation would remain in the legislation when the House and Senate versions are reconciled.

Northern officials were unavailable for comment on Thursday and Friday.