TC Energy Corporation announced that it will move forward with its Wisconsin Access Project to increase natural gas capacity, improve reliability, and reduce emissions on a highly utilized segment of its ANR Pipeline system.

The $0.2 billion project will provide approximately 72 million cubic feet per day of firm transportation service under long-term contracts to utilities serving the Midwestern United States. All project work will occur on ANR Pipeline’s existing facilities in Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, and Kansas.

“This project demonstrates the value of our existing infrastructure as a platform for organic growth. As utility companies’ demand for natural gas grows to provide power and heating to homes, we are finding new ways to meet the demand on our systems while lowering emissions,” said Russ Girling, TC Energy President and Chief Executive Officer. “Consumers benefit from lower energy costs and reliable service that abundant natural gas provides, and we aim to responsibly deliver that assurance with projects that utilize modern compression equipment and emerging technologies in our operations.”

The announcement of the Wisconsin Access Project follows TC Energy’s July sanctioning of the $0.4 billion Elwood Power/ANR Horsepower Replacement Project that will reduce emissions, increase reliability, and support new service for power generation on the ANR Pipeline.

The Wisconsin Access Project involves meter station upgrades, compressor station modifications for enhanced operational flexibility and emissions-cutting horsepower replacements.

The project is targeted to be brought in service in the second half of 2022.

The U.S. Small Business Administration announced Fiscal Year 2020 summary loan data of the financial assistance provided through traditional loan program lending as well as aid provided via the CARES Act. Loans guaranteed through traditional SBA-backed lending programs exceeded $28 billion; however, enactment of the CARES Act dramatically increased loan volume guaranteed by the Agency: In FY20, the Paycheck Protection Program provided an additional 5.2 million loans worth more than $525 billion; the Agency’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program added another 3.6 million small business loans valued at $191 billion, as well as an additional 5.7 million EIDL Advances worth $20 billion.

“In response to the unprecedented challenges faced by small businesses this year, the Trump Administration provided more than three-quarters of a trillion dollars in financial assistance to support impacted small businesses. SBA lending data further reflects the extraordinary commitment this Administration has made to supporting entrepreneurs in underserved communities,” said Administrator Jovita Carranza.

“The SBA played a monumental role in supporting small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, evidenced by the thousands of Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loans approved to urban and rural Montana businesses since March,” said Dan Nordberg, SBA Regional Administrator and National Director of Rural Affairs. “The SBA’s historic lending achievement is a testament not only to the dedicated public servants within the agency, but also to the grit of small business owners and entrepreneurs across the state. The SBA will continue advocating for small businesses and working with business owners and entrepreneurs as we navigate these challenging times.”

“When the COVID-19 pandemic impacted Montana’s small businesses, the SBA answered the call by leveraging all of the resources at our disposal, including 24,000 Paycheck Protection Program loans and 10,000 Economic Injury Disaster Loans that provided much needed funds to Montana small businesses, helping to keep Montana’s economy going during this difficult time,” said Brent Donnelly, SBA Montana District Director. “Like any great effort, a team of dedicated individuals was needed, and we at the SBA would like to thank Montana’s lenders, the small business owners, and our resource partners all continuing to work together for Montana.”

Highlights from the PPP include:

 *   27% of the PPP loan dollars were made in low-and moderate-income communities which is in proportion to the percentage of population in these areas:

 *   More than $133 billion, or 25%, of PPP loans were approved for small businesses in historically underutilized business zones (HUBZones); and,

 *   Over $80 billion, or 15%, of total PPP dollars were approved to small businesses in rural communities.

Administrator Carranza further noted, “In addition to the tremendous amount of aid provided by the CARES Act via the PPP and EIDL programs, our regular loan programs showed solid year-over-year improvement, especially within our 504 and Microloan programs. SBA’s small but dedicated team of professionals punched far above its weight this year, building on last year’s lending numbers for traditional loans, while administering the largest and most consequential disaster response effort in modern history – all while overcoming unprecedented workforce disruptions.”

As of November 1, RDO Equipment Co. became a dealer of John Deere compact construction equipment in Billings,  and the surrounding area, the result of an expansion of RDO’s compact construction footprint throughout the state.

As a total solutions provider of John Deere construction equipment and construction technology in Montana, RDO offers sales and full aftermarket support for the full line of compact construction equipment, including skid steers, compact track loaders, compact excavators, and compact wheel loaders. The recent expansion extends the geographical reach for these products from RDO’s five locations in Montana, covering responsibility for the entire state.

“Our team members are dedicated to building lasting relationships that extend well beyond the sale of a machine,” said John Hurd, Billings Store Manager. “The opportunity to meet customers in these expanded areas and help them find the equipment they need to accomplish their work is one we’re very excited about.”

Team members in each of RDO’s Montana locations specialize in the compact equipment line and have expertise in its use across a spectrum of applications, from general construction and landscaping to farm, ranch, and home use.

Founded in 1968, RDO Equipment Co. sells and supports agriculture, construction, environmental, irrigation, positioning, and surveying equipment from leading manufacturers including John Deere, Vermeer, and Topcon. With more than 75 locations across the United States, and partnerships in Africa, Australia, Mexico, Russia, and Ukraine, RDO Equipment Co. is a total solutions provider.

The Montana Public Service Commission has trimmed $9.4 million from an annual rate adjustment requested by NorthWestern Energy, after concluding the utility’s imprudent supervision of the coal-fired power plant in Colstrip, led to its temporary shutdown in 2018.

With interest, NorthWestern will be required to refund more than $9.9 million to ratepayers.

For about two and a half months in the summer of 2018, the power plant had to be shut down after testing showed the plant’s emissions exceeded federal pollution standards. Tests leading up to the outage showed the plant was operating at the maximum emissions limit. When a test in June 2018 exceeded the limit, the plant had to be shut down until it could be brought into compliance.

NorthWestern, a co-owner of Colstrip Unit 4, was forced to buy power from other energy producers during the outage, at a higher price than the cost of production at Colstrip. Each year, the Commission requires NorthWestern to request a rate adjustment to reflect actual costs the utility incurs to supply energy to its customers in Montana.

NorthWestern’s proposed adjustment for 2019 sought to collect $23.8 million from Montana ratepayers, including costs related to the Colstrip outage. The Montana Consumer Counsel and the Montana Environmental Information Center disputed NorthWestern’s request and argued the outage costs resulted from imprudent management and supervision of the Colstrip plant.

The Commission decided NorthWestern should bear the majority of the costs associated with the Colstrip outage. Specifically, the Commission determined NorthWestern’s 2 of 3 supervision of the Colstrip plant was imprudent, and that a reasonable utility in NorthWestern’s position would have taken more proactive steps to ensure compliance with emissions standards. As a result, the Commission determined NorthWestern should be liable for $6,284,967 of replacement power costs, which represents the premium NorthWestern paid to buy energy from other producers instead of generating it at the Colstrip plant.

NorthWestern’s original cost recovery request assumed the utility would be responsible for $629,967 of the replacement costs under cost-sharing rules, so the Commission’s decision increases NorthWestern’s responsibility by nearly $5.7 million. The Commission’s decision follows in the wake of similar findings regarding the Colstrip outage made by regulators in other states. Earlier this year, Washington regulators denied $15.4 million in power replacement costs requested by three utilities in that state.

NorthWestern’s proposed rate adjustment also sparked debate over a new law that limits how much of the power supply costs the utility has to absorb before passing costs on to ratepayers. NorthWestern lobbied the 2019 Montana Legislature to pass a new law that bars the Commission from applying a “deadband” and other cost-sharing rules when calculating NorthWestern’s annual rate adjustment. The Commission had instituted a deadband—a dollar range of power supply costs and savings that NorthWestern would absorb without a rate adjustment—to incentivize careful management of supply costs. Although the new law became effective in May 2019, after the Colstrip outage costs were incurred, NorthWestern argued it barred the Commission from applying its deadband and costsharing rules when calculating the rate adjustment.

The Consumer Counsel, however, argued the deadband had to be prorated based on the new law’s effective date. The Commission agreed with the Consumer Counsel, concluding that the new law could not be applied retroactively, and held NorthWestern responsible for an additional $3,765,739 of costs. As a result of the Commission’s decision, NorthWestern will be required to refund ratepayers $9,422,209 it collected through an interim rate adjustment that was based on the full amount of its original request. Until the refund is fully paid, it will accrue interest at a rate of 10.25%, annually. As of Tuesday, interest owed to ratepayers totaled more than $523,000. During the Commission’s deliberations on Tuesday, Commissioner Roger Koopman proposed an amendment based on the Consumer Counsel’s proposed calculations that would have held NorthWestern responsible for an additional $2.5 million in costs, but the amendment failed for lack of a second.

The Montana Contractors Association (MCA) is proud to announce Sarah Swanson as our Build Montana Coordinator. Swanson previously was the General Manager and an owner of Farm Equipment Sales, Inc., a multi-location John Deere dealer organization in eastern Montana.

As a small business owner, she experienced first-hand the struggles of building a workforce based on the trades. Sarah believes that strong partnerships with public schools are the key to ensuring Montana employers have the highly-skilled workforce required to Build Montana. After selling her dealerships, Sarah decided to put her knowledge to work in helping several industries address workforce development needs. Swanson has helped grow workforce initiatives with the Montana Equipment Dealers Association (MEDA) and the Montana Restaurant Association, where she chaired the board for ProStart, a high school restaurant management and culinary arts program. She is a past president of MEDA and the Montana Retail Associations, and has served on the boards of directors for the Montana Chamber of Commerce, Women Leading Montana, and Leadership Montana.

Build Montana is the workforce development initiative created by the MCA to deliver the message about the exciting careers in construction that await students and young people. The goal of Build Montana is to foster relationships with schools, educators, students, and their families to ensure construction and the trades is an option when considering a career path. Build Montana ultimately seeks to bring together talented, skilled individuals with contractors across the state. The workforce initiative is directed by the MCA’s Education Foundation, and has partnered with the Montana Equipment Dealers Association to provide a broad scope of career options.

As an independent contractor with a passion for careers in the trades, Swanson is taking the Build Montana initiative statewide to introduce teachers, students, and their families to exciting career possibilities that await them in construction. If you would like to learn more about how you can help young people explore careers in construction, please reach out to Sarah at (406) 263-3677, or at

The Montana Contractors Association, a chapter of the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), is a trade organization representing commercial, industrial and public works construction firms. The MCA Education Foundation is a 501(c)(3) designed to promote and support careers in construction, and help build a diverse, skilled workforce for Montana contractors. Learn more at, and

Travel on Thanksgiving will be on the lighter side this year as AAA Montana anticipates a 10 percent drop in travel nationwide — the most extensive one year decrease since the 2008 Great Recession.

AAA Utah expected up to 50 million Americans to travel for Thanksgiving — a drop from 55 million in 2019. However, the number of travelers will be even lower as Americans monitor and respond to the public health landscape.

“The wait-and-see approach travel trend continues to impact travel decisions,” said Aldo Vazquez, AAA Montana Spokesperson. “The decision to travel is a personal one. For those who are considering making a trip, the majority will go by car, which provides the flexibility to modify holiday travel plans up until the day of departure.”

AAA expects to rescue more than 413,000 Americans nationwide over the Thanksgiving holiday travel period. Drivers should ensure their vehicles are road-ready before embarking on a road trip. Drive to a AAA owned or Approved Auto Repair Center for a pre-trip inspection.

By Samuel J. Abrams, Center Square

Just-released data make it apparent that younger Americans remain overwhelmingly centrist and open-minded. In 2019, UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute found that 67% of first-year college students were open to having their views challenged. Moreover, while large numbers of students regularly state that they do not feel that they can express unpopular opinions, more than two-thirds agree with the statement, “dissent is a critical component of the political process.”

As new data from Reality Check Insights reveal, an overwhelming majority of young people are willing to shut down speech regarded as harmful and untrue – such as Holocaust denial, which 70% of Millennials and Gen Zers would ban from campuses. Yet large majorities of younger Americans oppose cancelling or limiting expressions of controversial or even offensive views: 69% would welcome a speaker on campus who opposed the Black Lives Matter movement, for example, while 81% would welcome a guest speaker in support of BLM.

In this area, at least, the young are more pro-free speech than older generations. Just 54% of Boomers, for instance, would welcome a supporter of BLM, though 70% would endorse bringing in a speaker in opposition to BLM.

Younger people believe in viewpoint diversity, but with some limits. Survey data from Cato confirm that younger Americans are more likely to believe that American society can prohibit hate speech while still protecting free speech. Two-thirds (63%) of those between 25 and 34 agree that there can be a balance. Just under half (47%) of those between 55 and 64 agree that this is possible. Older generations find the nuance harder to accept.

Collectively, these new data show that young people are not as closeminded as portrayed – so long as they regard the ideas they’re hearing as legitimate. The virtues and vices of BLM are open to debate; Holocaust denial is not. Millennials and Gen Zers welcome discourse on topics worthy of debate but are not interested in giving platforms to hate speech.

Sadly, open debate and controversial ideas are becoming harder to find on college campuses, as a small but vocal group of students, usually with the support of social-justice-minded administrators, shut down topics that make them uncomfortable. New data from RealClearEducation and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education found that 60 percent of college students have self-censored and kept quiet over fears of a negative response. That figure jumps to 72% for conservative students. Schools are not protecting viewpoint diversity and open inquiry.

Young Americans grew up in a messy world of politics and ideas. They want to hear opposing views and make up their own minds without silencing legitimate speech. In my decade-plus of college teaching, I have seen controversial speakers regularly have to deal with a loud minority that wants to silence them – but this minority does not represent most students. Those who support students’ wish for open inquiry and free expression should speak up however they can, because the data are unambiguous: younger Americans want to hear challenging ideas.

The Great Northern Historical Trail will be undergoing “Tunnel Vision 2021” a project to bring in artists from the community to paint murals on the entrances to the three tunnels. The three tunnels are located in a public right of way, so Rails-to-Trails had to work with the city of Kalispell and the Montana Department of Transportation to get the approvals to put the artwork in place. The city of Kalispell and MDT will have final say in the artwork selections.

 A new bike ride has been announced for Whitefish on August 21, 2021. Called the “Last Best Ride” the ride offers two routes which will use the gravel roads around Whitefish. One route is 48 miles and the other is 78 miles.

Voters in the Missoula Urban Transportation District approved a 20 mill levy increase that will provide Mountain Line with $3 million per year to increase services. The bus system plans to increase frequency on heavily-used routes and plans to convert its fleet from diesel to all-electric. Mountain Line provides more than 1.5 million rides annually, and ridership has increased since the debut of zero-fare rides.

The sixth annual SnöFlinga Winter Festival is scheduled from January 21thru 24, in Butte. After communication between the board of directors of SnöFlinga and the Butte-Silver Bow Health Department, the popular winter festival will move forward with adjustments to stay within the protocol set for COVID-19 safety. SnöFlinga was founded by the Butte Community Fitness Foundation to highlight the everyday winter fitness opportunities in the Butte area. These activities include cross country skiing, ice skating, hockey, curling, fat bike riding and walking trails. There were 17 events and nearly 3,000 attendees in the 2020 festival.

Helena has a variety of new or soon to be open new businesses: Slim Chickens restaurant will open soon at 1450 Prospect Ave; the Floral Cottage will move from their current location at 1900 Last Chance Gulch to a new building between Cedar and Custer on Sanders Street. They hope to open the new location in January 2021; Mariposa Massage has opened at 1221 Echelon Place – Ste D; Sassy Nails has opened at 1005 Partridge Place – Ste 2.

District Court Judge Kathy Seeley has overturned a rule by the Montana Lottery which required any business that wished a have a sports betting license under the sports betting law to have a Montana State liquor license. The judge found that the legislature had not inserted any language to require a liquor license.

Bridger Bowl Ski Area has discontinued selling some season passes in a move meant to limit capacity and prevent the spread of coronavirus. The ski area will continue selling day lift tickets. Reservations are part of the ski area’s plans for the season amid the pandemic. Daily limits for the number skiers of allowed on the mountain will also apply.

The B. Sanderson Gas plant going up west of Williston has continued construction during the market downturn in North Dakota. The gas processing plant is now over 75% complete.

The Williston Basin Chapter of the American Petroleum Institute to has cancelled its 2020-21 awards banquet. The event had been scheduled for Jan. 8 at The Well at Williston State College. The awards banquet is usually held in early November, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced the organization to postpone and to finally cancel the event.

Cannabis promoters are pointing out that for Montana and the other states which have legalized recreational use of the drug, there is potential for job growth. Each newly legal cannabis state will need to build a new supply chain – from seed to sale – due to the continued Schedule I designation that prohibits moving cannabis across state lines. As a result there “We can expect to see a massive expansion in the number of cannabis farms, manufacturing centers and retail stores. This means Montana (alongside Arizona, New Jersey and South Dakota) can anticipate tens of thousands of new jobs as licenses are granted and regulations are adopted.”

Oboz Footwear, the True to the Trail outdoor footwear company headquartered in Bozeman, has been named to Outside Magazine’s Best Places to Work in 2020. The list honors businesses and organizations that demonstrate a commitment to welcoming environments that prioritize work-life balance and employee engagement.

The Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport reports that their travel numbers are at about 70-75 percent. In April, at its worst point of the pandemic, the airport saw just 3-3.5% of its usual travel numbers.

The Montana Grain Growers Association (MGGA) announced that executive vice president Lola Raska will retire from the organization at the end of this calendar year. The organization also announced that Alison Vergeront has been hired as MGGA’s new executive vice president, effective January 1 Lola Raska has been on staff at MGGA for 21 years, serving as the organization’s farm policy associate and website manager before being hired as executive vice president in 2006. Alison Vergeront was raised on the family farm near Polson, that was homesteaded in 1910. She has served as agricultural liaison and field representative for U.S. Senator Steve Daines for the past six years, regularly meeting with producers and other stakeholders across the state.

Like so many other events, this year the Montana Economic Outlook will be different. The Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana has announced that, rather than a half day packed full of presentations, it will be a two –day on line event, that will include multiple networking and discussion opportunities with speakers, sponsors and fellow attendees.

The 46th Economic Seminar, to be held Feb. 1 and 2, will have the theme “The Path Forward – How COVID-19 has Reshaped the Economy.”

Edward Gleaser, Fred and Eleanor Glimp Professor of Economics at Harvard University, will be a featured speaker, as will Neel Kashkari, President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

Edward Glaeser has been influential in advancing ideas on economic growth and has been a champion of cities as generators of ideas and wealth. The question of how COVID-19 has reshaped growth patterns in ways that might be felt in a state like ours is certain to receive his attention.

Neel Kashkari has a seat at the table in making the decisions that have stabilized and supported financial markets during this extraordinary time. His remarks will address the factors and issues that continue to shape the regional and national economic outlook.

BBER economists will present national, state and local economic forecasts for Montana’s largest communities and industry experts will give their outlook for the state’s important sectors, including tourism, health care, real estate and housing, agriculture, manufacturing, high-tech and forest products. V

For the first time, the seminary will be hosted online. The program will offer attendees the ability to attend the sessions of their choice, as well as connect in a variety of innovative ways via our interactive online platform. There will be options for live text messaging and/or video chats with other attendees, presenters and sponsors.

More information is available at

The Center Square

October 14, 2020, marks the 40th anniversary of the enactment of the Staggers Rail Act signed by former President Jimmy Carter. The bipartisan legislation primarily deregulated the freight rail sector, which was on the brink of collapse in the 1970s.

The rail industry’s success after 40 years of rail deregulation provides “an important case study on matters related to competition, markets, rate regulation and capitalism writ large,” the Association of American Railroads argues.

The Staggers Rail Act eliminated many of the regulations still in place since 1887, when Congress passed the Interstate Commerce Act. The act established the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) to regulate monopolies controlling the railroads.

By the 1970s, the regulations had not changed. Combined with competition from other transportation sectors, major railroads were facing bankruptcy, the industry was facing ruin and rail infrastructure was so deficient that cars were falling off the tracks.

Deregulation enabled the rail industry to take a customer-focused and market-based approach. Since then, freight railroads have invested more than $710 billion of their own dollars back into the national rail network.

Since 1980, rail traffic has doubled but, because of deregulation, rail rates are down by more than 40 percent when adjusted for inflation. Customers can ship double the amount of goods for roughly the same price they could 40 years ago. And because of technological advancement, increased volume of heavy freight has been carried on rail lines instead of on congested or failing public roads making transportation safer.

Research from Towson University’s Regional Economic Studies Institute found that in 2017, Class I railroads’ operations and capital investment supported over 1.1 million jobs, $219.5 billion in economic output, and $71.3 billion in wages, while also creating nearly $26 billion in total tax revenue.

In a typical week, railroads deliver roughly 60,000 carloads of food and agricultural products. A single rail car moves enough wheat for 258,000 loaves of bread, enough corn for 480,000 bags of Fritos, or enough barley for 94,000 gallons of beer, AAR states.

Throughout the economic downturn due to statewide coronavirus shutdowns, the rail industry did not seek federal bailout money and continued to provide services. This has been possible because the U.S. Surface Transportation Board has avoided utility-style rate or earnings regulation in the sector.

Before the coronavirus shutdown, the agency was considering capping how much railroad companies could earn in a year, including imposing an across-the-board utility-style rate regulation.

“For railroads, the impact of imposing these regulations would have a devastating effect on liquidity,” Steve Pociask at RealClear Policy argues.

If rate caps were imposed, “it stands to reason that investment in the rail network would fall, and quite likely so would its dependability and efficiency – just as companies that ship over rail will need those qualities during the hard slog back to economic recovery,” he adds.

Compared to the heavily regulated transportation airline and mass transit industries that were reporting losses before the coronavirus ever hit, federal bailouts for the airlines, airports and mass transit totaled nearly $90 billion.