Montana at an Environmental Crossroads
Montana Democrats are struggling because environmentalists are obnoxious hippie job killers alienating themselves from the base of labor, who have been scooped up by the right. That seems to be the conventional wisdom, as evidenced by this comment from Rob Kailey:
For 20 some years, the Montana Democratic party has been relying on a base that is dying out. It doesn’t mean they don’t have power; they obviously do. But that power is tenuous at best. Progressives, which in Montana often always means environmentalists, have a megaphone but no one that really appeals to the common Democratic voter. Republicans have captured enough of the union vote that the Democratic base is even more split than it ever was before. Without Labor, Montana Democrats have squat. Yes, they will win Butte. But Billings? Great Falls? Missoula favors ‘progressives’ who don’t appeal to the common Montana voter. We can argue why until the cows come home, but it still won’t change the voting dynamic.
This Nation article from May of last year echoes that sentiment:
At the height of the Keystone debate, four unions stood with the titans of the fossil fuel industry to lambaste progressive environmentalists as extremist job killers. The Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA) president, Terry O’Sullivan, went so far as to describe unionists who opposed the climate-destroying pipeline as being “under the skirts of delusional environmental groups which stand in the way of creating good, much needed American jobs.”
This January, when President Obama again rejected the expedited construction of the pipeline, O’Sullivan doubled down, saying, “We’re repulsed by some of our supposed brothers and sisters lining up with job killers like the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council to destroy the lives of working men and women.”
It was clear who O’Sullivan was talking about: the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) and the Transport Workers Union (TWU), which had dared to stand with environmental allies against Keystone. O’Sullivan’s vicious attacks on his fellow unionists were not even acknowledged by other labor officials until LIUNA and the building trades unions began running advertisements in Midwestern swing states attacking the president. It was only then that AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka noted the tension, explaining that “unions don’t agree among ourselves.”
By that point, the industry had succeeded in casting the entire house of labor in the Keystone XL camp, with American Petroleum Institute’s Jack Gerard declaring, “We will stand shoulder to shoulder with labor unions that have backed the pipeline, including the Teamsters and the AFL-CIO’s Building and Construction Trades Department.” The public perception of unified labor support for the pipeline persists—bolstering the industry’s fearmongering about the threat to the economy posed by environmentalists and their penchant for job-killing regulations, and souring labor’s relations with progressive allies in the environmental movement at a moment when unions are under broad assault and desperately need support.
Why, after decades of talk about the importance of a labor–environmental alliance, can’t the blues and the greens get it together?
This is classic divide & conquer, and it’s been tremendously successful in undermining the green/blue alliance. It doesn’t help that we have media whores like the Missoulian editorial board shilling for a pipeline, blaring the jobs trumpet as one factor that makes this project necessary. In that post I linked to an article citing a state department report that put the number of permanent jobs at a whopping 35.
I’m fairly certain that if people in this state were actually informed about the pros and cons of projects like the Keystone XL pipeline, pitting labor against environmentalists would be much more difficult to do.
Even the coal cowboy, Brian Schweitzer, sees the populist opportunity to rail against a big oil company when the inevitable oil spills happen to jewels of our Treasure State like the Yellowstone River.
Have disasters like the Yellowstone oil spill reinvigorated the blue/green alliance? Maybe, but it’s too early to tell. Despite victories like the Nez Perce stopping the transport of megaloads, the desperate economic situation of too many Montanans will continue making divide & conquer a powerful strategy for the moneyed interests who refuse to spend money to make their projects safer for those who will suffer when things go wrong.
And things will inevitably go wrong.
I think it’s fair to say Big Sky Country is at an environmental crossroads, which is the title of an article written by Nate Schweber for Aljazeera America (yes, the Nate Schweber who used to electrify the airwaves of KBGA many years ago).
Here’s an excerpt:
In the kitchen of a small white farmhouse down a corrugated dirt road, through a sea of grass, Irene Moffett pointed at chalky buttes on the blue horizon. For generations, her family has worked this land. Now, one mile from her property, a Canadian company hopes to lay the Keystone XL pipeline, which would siphon crude oil from Canada’s tar-sand mines to a seaport on the Gulf of Mexico.
“Most jobs won’t last after the pipeline’s built, and what happens if there’s a spill?” said Moffett, 77. “Why should we put up with the pollution, the disruption of agricultural lands? What’s in it for Montana?”
Across this massive state, with scenery ranging from snowy mountains to virgin prairies, a diverse collection of Montanans, in love with their land, is opposing new transportation infrastructure for coal and oil.
Three proposed projects — the Keystone XL pipeline, a new coal railroad and a trucking route for mining equipment the size of apartment buildings — have triggered protests in different regions of the state, and not just from people who dislike fossil fuels.
Ranchers, Native Americans, farmers and environmentalists say they don’t want the industrialization of the land that comes with moving the fuels and with the equipment needed for their extraction.
“A certain amount of that has to happen,” said Moffett’s husband, Donald Moffett, 84, standing on tawny fields his grandparents homesteaded in 1909. “But I’d just as soon it stay agriculture.”
I think, if the facts were known, a majority of Montanans would agree.