Coal-tax dispute may return to high court

 

Montana is trying to force its coal-tax dispute with the Crow tribe - a case that has been kicking around the federal courts for 19 years - to yet another hearing before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The tribe won the first round in 1988, when the Supreme Court declared in a $46.8 million judgment that the state had improperly collected coal severance taxes from Crow-owned coal since 1976. The ruling also held that coal owned by an Indian tribe was not subject to state taxation. However, the tribe rejected the judgment and is holding out for its original demand of $93 million.

But this March, Montana Gov. Marc Racicot and Attorney General Joseph P. Mazurek refused a Crow request to draft legislation to settle the case. The next step for the state would be to petition the Supreme Court for an appeal.

Meanwhile, the money from the original judgment - which would be paid from Montana's coal-tax trust fund - is gathering interest at a rate yet to be determined by a lower court.

If the tribe wins, the state may wish it had listened to former state Sen. Thomas Towe, author of Montana's Coal Severance Tax, who urged the Legislature in 1984 to settle the case out of court. Towe, now a Billings lawyer, recently said the case could drag on for another five years. In the end, the state may have to pay a potential $300 million judgment with interest earned from the original judgment. That could wipe out the principal balance of the Coal Tax Trust Fund, which began back in 1975 with a 30 percent severance tax on coal.

"My guess is that the Supreme Court will simply refuse to review it," Towe says. "The state should try to settle with the tribe right now, out of the trust fund, with some negotiated rate of interest."

The Coal Severance Tax Trust Fund was set up to help avoid a repeat of the plunder-and-run tradition of the 19th century copper kings and, later, the Anaconda Co. The idea was to keep some of the wealth in the state for future generations after the resource was hauled away. Coal-tax revenues have also been used to mitigate coal-mining-related impacts on schools, roads and other services.

Pat Dawson writes in Billings, Montana.

High Country News Classifieds
  • BEND AREA HOME WITH AMAZING CASCADE PEAKS VIEW
    Enjoy rural peacefulness and privacy with one of the most magnificent Cascade Mountain views in sunny Central Oregon! Convenient location only eight miles from Bend's...
  • MARKETING COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a Marketing Communications Manager to join our...
  • EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks an Editor-In-Chief to join our senior team...
  • RESEARCH FELLOW (SOUTHWESTERN U.S. ENERGY TRANSITION)
    The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) in partnership with the Grand Canyon Trust is seeking a full-time Fellow to conduct topical research...
  • LENDER OWNED FIX & FLIP
    2 houses on 37+ acres. Gated subdivision, Penrose Colorado. $400k. Possible lender financing. Bob Kunkler Brokers Welcome.
  • ONCE OR TWICE
    A short historical novel set in central Oregon based on the the WWII Japanese high altitude ballon that exploded causing civilian casualties. A riveting look...
  • HISTORIC LODGE AND RESTAURANT - FULLY EQUIPPED
    Built in 1901, The Crazy Mountain Inn has 11 guest rooms in a town-center building on 7 city lots (.58 acres). The inn and restaurant...
  • HOUSE FOR SALE
    Rare mountain property, borders National Forest, stream nearby. Pumicecrete, solar net metering, radiant heat, fine cabinets, attic space to expand, patio, garden, wildlife, insulated garage,...
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER- NORTHERN PLAINS RESOURCE COUNCIL
    Want to organize people to protect Montana's water quality, family farms and ranches, & unique quality of life with Northern Plains Resource Council? Apply now-...
  • CONSERVATION MANAGER
    The Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust (RiGHT) is hiring an energetic and motivated Conservation Manager to develop and complete new conservation projects and work within...
  • POLLINATOR OASIS
    Seeking an experienced, hardworking partner to help restore a desert watershed/wetland while also creating a pollinator oasis at the mouth of an upland canyon. Compensation:...
  • ELLIE SAYS IT'S SAFE! A GUIDE DOG'S JOURNEY THROUGH LIFE
    by Don Hagedorn. A story of how lives of the visually impaired are improved through the love and courage of guide dogs. Available on Amazon.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY
    All positions available: Sales Representative, Accountant and Administrative Assistant. As part of our expansion program, our University is looking for part time work from home...
  • RUBY, ARIZONA CARETAKER
    S. Az ghost town seeking full-time caretaker. Contact [email protected] for details.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Powder River Basin Resource Council, a progressive non-profit conservation organization based in Sheridan, Wyoming, seeks an Executive Director, preferably with grassroots organizing experience, excellent communication...
  • ADOBE HOME
    Passive solar adobe home in high desert of central New Mexico. Located on a 10,000 acre cattle ranch.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Eastern Nevada Landscape Coalition, based in Ely, Nevada is looking for a new executive director to replace the long-time executive director who is retiring at...
  • STEVE HARRIS, EXPERIENCED PUBLIC LANDS/ENVIRONMENTAL ATTORNEY
    Comment Letters - Admin Appeals - Federal & State Litigation - FOIA -
  • LOG HOME IN THE GILA WILDERNESS
    Beautiful hand built log home in the heart of the Gila Wilderness on five acres. Please email for PDF of pictures and a full description.