Montana at an Environmental Crossroads

by lizard

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.

We’ll see.


  1. Hmmm… I distinctly remember one of your recent posts that had a criterion for being a progressive that basically said property rights are trumped by human rights. Where do you draw the line with property rights vs. human rights? Is it OK for some types of industrialization but not others when property rights become an issue in their development? Just wondering.

    • lizard19

      I don’t think the public good would ever be served through eminent domain unless the public owned a significant portion of whatever industrial development was being proposed.

      • Big Swede

        Like Otter Creek?

        • lizard19

          I was speaking generally. there are some forms of energy development, like coal, that pose a great enough threat that no amount of pros, imho, out-weigh the cons.

  2. Craig Moore

    Until “progressive” Tester changes his position and webpage, no need to focus on efforts to split the blue/green alliance. http://www.tester.senate.gov/?p=news&id=294

    Why I support the Keystone XL Pipeline
    By: Sen. Jon Tester

    Eastern Montana’s oil fields are leading the way to better American energy security, more Montana jobs and a stronger economy. But Montana needs the Keystone XL pipeline to expand our market opportunities, our energy security and our economy by getting our oil to refineries and to the market.

    Energy development in the Bakken oil fields started decades ago. Today, the region produces 500,000 barrels of oil per day. Since 2005, production has grown 150 percent.

    I recently visited Richland County to tour its oil rigs and see the latest developments. I witnessed the promise of responsible energy development and I met the hardworking people ready to power Eastern Montana’s economy for generations.

    Responsible energy development will not only increase our energy security and create jobs, but it will also spur small businesses and new opportunities from Culbertson to Miles City.

    Building the Keystone XL pipeline will help Eastern Montana to reach its full economic potential. The pipeline would run through Montana and include an on-ramp in Baker for oil from the Bakken. The on-ramp will deliver up to 100,000 barrels of oil per day to market. Today, Bakken oil is getting less than market value because of shipping constraints — Keystone XL will help fix that.

    I have voted to approve the Keystone XL pipeline three times. I am disappointed that Congress and the president cannot work together to support this common sense project. Built with respect for private property rights and to the highest safety standards, the pipeline will safeguard our most treasured places and increase our energy independence.

    Energy security means economic and national security, and a responsibly-built Keystone XL pipeline will make us less dependent on unfriendly countries. We import less foreign oil than we have in decades, but we still have work to do to become energy independent. That’s why I am pushing to keep Bakken oil right here in the United States. After all, it makes sense to power American vehicles and industries with domestic oil instead of sending nearly $1 billion per day to countries that don’t like us.

    I will keep fighting for the Keystone XL pipeline. In the meantime, I’m pushing TransCanada to begin training workers right here in Montana. Montanans are ready to work and have all the skills and work experience needed to begin construction once we get the green light.

    As your U.S. senator, I will keep pushing for the Keystone XL pipeline — as well as the responsible development of all available energy sources in Montana. Our energy security and the long-term health of our economy depend upon it.

    • Craig Moore

      And there is Baucus pro development “progressive” position. http://www.baucus.senate.gov/?p=press_release&id=1396

      Baucus, Tester Urge Approval of Keystone Pipeline
      Senators Continue Fight for Montana Jobs on 5-year Anniversary

      Posted: Thursday, September 19, 2013

      (Washington) – Montana’s U.S. Senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester are continuing their push for the Keystone Pipeline, as today marks five years since TransCanada first applied for a permit from the State Department.

      “After five years of studies and red tape, it’s well past time to put Americans to work building the Keystone pipeline,” Baucus said. “The President’s own State Department has released 3 studies showing there will be no harm to the environment. There are no more excuses left. Americans can’t afford to wait any longer for Keystone jobs.”

      “I will keep fighting for the Keystone Pipeline until it is built to the highest safety standards and with respect for private property rights. The pipeline will strengthen our economy and let us continue to cut our oil imports from countries that wish us harm,” Tester said.

      In August, Baucus and Tester introduced new legislation again expressing the Senate’s position that the President should approve the pipeline as soon as possible.

      The State Department has released three draft Environmental Impact Statements finding “no significant impacts” on the environment. In its latest analysis in March, the State Department concluded that “there would be no substantive change in global greenhouse gas emissions” associated with Keystone XL: http://keystonepipeline-xl.state.gov/draftseis/index.htm.

      • lizard19

        what’s your point, Craig?

        • Big Swede

          Your first sentence in the post is dead on accurate.

        • Craig Moore

          Your blue/green alliance plus tribes elected both Tester and Baucus. Until that dynamic is changed don’t worry about splits being the reason for energy development.

          • lizard19

            the talking points everyone, including Tester, regurgitate are bullshit. the jobs will be temporary, the “energy independence” will NOT make Montanans more secure, the infrastructure will NOT be using new technology to make it safer, and the eminent domain that will be used to take property will NOT benefit the public good.

            • Craig Moore

              Then convince the blue/green alliance plus tribes not to vote for “progressives” like Tester, Baucus, and even Schweitzer type Dems that read the political tea leaves and vote pro-energy. Any guess which way Walsh would go on energy matters? http://www.kxnet.com/story/23899794/pushing-for-keystone

              Montana’s lieutenant governor visited Sidney today, continuing his push for the Keystone-XL Pipeline to be approved by the federal government.

              Keystone is designed to bring oil from Canada across the US to Texas.

              Permits have been applied for for five years, but supporters say the Obama administration is refusing to make a decision on them.

              Today, a group called the Montana Energy Forum held an event to promote the pipeline.

              Among the speakers was Lieutenant Governor John Walsh of Montana.

              He says Keystone will not only move Canadian oil to U-S refineries, it will also provide a path for oil from the Bakken region to get to market.

              (Lt. Gov. John Walsh, Montana) “It’s going to provide the on-ramp for oil coming out of the Bakken so that will create jobs while the pipeline is being built and with that on-ramp will provide additional jobs for Montana.”

  3. Aright, I left the US before all this pipeline stuff started in Montana. Who supported this, who approved it, was their oversight by elected officials, was there a chance for the public to comment, did voters get to vote on it, who’s paying for it, who profits from it?

    I find it hard to believe that this could have started being built without the support of the state.

    I think the people would have been able to put their opinion forth.

    I think Montana didn’t pay for most of it, but the future costs will exceed the initial costs.

    I don’t think I will profit off of it, or anyone I know. Yeah, I guess gas could go down by a few pennies, but that’ll just go up again.

    I do applaud the US for trying to get away from the pusher that is OPEC. And I don’t think marginalized groups like hippies and indians are going to stop this thing.

    I also think the vast majority of people in this state could care less. What we’ve got under a million people here? Do you really think even 500,000 are thinking about this each day? I don’t.

  4. And to think, you accuse me of having a victim mentality.

    My comment was simple observation of history and fact, Lizard. The response from the environmental left has been predictable, annoying and tired. But, I’d rather light a candle that you victims can blow out then curse your darkness.

    I’m not the one stuck in “crossroads” either/or thinking. We may indeed be at a crossroads, but it isn’t Democrats like me who put us there. It is the more ‘fervent’ elements of both right and left, each of which is embracing winner take all methods. The thing that the right is better at than you are is selling their strategy of opposition and alienation. It isn’t the CW lead Democrats who think you’re hippy job killers. It’s the Republicant’s who labeled you that and then you did everything to provide them evidence for the claim.

    CW, conventional wisdom, is only worthy of disdain to those who really don’t want to win the fights they undertake. You should be truthful and call it what it really is: POPULAR wisdom. It doesn’t matter whether it’s ‘conventional’. Much CW in this screwed up country isn’t C at all. But it is popular, and that’s why it’s used by pundits and politicians alike to strike those who’ve drawn their lines in the sand. The end result is almost always the same. They win, you lose. (I tried, admittedly too late, to warn MK that his organizations were pushing so hard to force PopularWisdom about wolves that they really didn’t have the support that SCIENCE and LAW and WISDOM would afford them to win. I of course was wrong for noticing. And kindly don’t pull the same canard about me claiming victim status, Liz. I’m not the one who got his ass handed to him in Congress.)

    Not that I think you’ll actually pay much attention, but here’s a hint. If you don’t let *them* divide, then *they* can’t easily conquer, now can they?

    • lizard19

      Rob, I’m so glad you shared with us your popular wisdom. there is a clear similarity between the well-funded extreme right and the ever-marginalized extreme left. I hope the pipeline gets built and all the wonderful jobs help working Montanans and all the compromising energy dependence on those bad foreign countries goes away in a magic poof.

      • ~sigh~ Sarcasm doesn’t suit you, and in all our exchanges I’ve noticed the obvious. You are really not very good at it.

        I don’t give one salient crap about “Popular Wisdom”. You do, so ask yourself what your fault is, not mine. I care about reason. Reason ‘suggests’ that if you wish to succeed you ply the public to your point of view, and sometimes that actually involves alliances with folk you don’t like. Winner-take-all is the rule of our governance. Letting the giant win because you feel better about yourself picking up a slingshot with an inadequate army? You’d best hope you have DOG on your side, hadn’t you?

        • lizard19

          my fault is clear: by criticizing the Republican-lite policies of Democrats, I am obviously serving the right wing extremists. you have made that point over and over again.

          as for my sarcasm—darn, I thought I was improving :( it’s like that famous saying: if at first you don’t succeed, keep voting Democrat!

          ~shrug~

          ~hmph~

          ~arghh~

    • Matthew Koehler

      I had to chuckle to see that Rob had brought me into this discussion with the supposed lesson he taught me when Sen Tester attached a rider to unrelated legislation that removed Endangered Species Act protections for wolves in Montana and Idaho. This was the first time in the history of the ESA that such a tactic had been used by politicians.

      Fact is, our organization – the WildWest Institute – had absolutely nothing to do with any of the wolf/ESA lawsuits, nor did the WildWest Institute work on any Congressional lobbying efforts concerning wolves. Rob has a long history of using me as a surrogate for some of his beefs with the US environmental movement. So when Rob writes, “I’m not the one who got his ass handed to him in Congress” and directs that insult towards me, I can only laugh knowing I had zero to do w/ these lawsuits or lobbying efforts.

      Besides as I recall, I simply tried at LiTW to provide some context surrounding what those lawsuits were about (from a legal/policy perspective, not a PR perspective) and why Congressional politicians passing riders that simply declare a threatened or endangered species is “recovered” is a bad precedent. A precedent which certainly didn’t go unnoticed in the GOP leadership.

      I agree that standing up and speaking out for wolves is tough business in places like Montana. Humans have had irrational fears about wolves for thousands of years, as evidence by fairy tales that go back to the 10th century. But I also understand that millions of America’s (and an increasing number of westerns) are absolutely appalled at what states like Montana and Idaho have done with draconian wolf-killing regulations once Sen Tester’s rider de-listed wolves and gave management to the states. We shall see how it all turns out. Thanks.

      • I am sincerely sorry for the dust up between us, Matthew. After all, you (most very importantly YOU) got what you wanted, right? Oh wait …

  5. Pete Talbot

    The Republican Party shits on both labor and environmentalists. This is what keeps me (somewhat) optimistic.

    Just the other day I walked into the Union Club in Missoula for a cold one and saw a well known union organizer deep in conversation with an environmental activist. There was tension in the air but at least they were talking, and trying to find common ground.

    Forget about either labor or environmentalists finding common ground with the far right that controls the Republican Party. Won’t happen.

    Sure there’s friction but when push comes to shove, organized labor and most of the environmental movement will support the more progressive candidate on the ticket. In Montana, that usually means a rather mainstream Democrat, but we’re way better than many Western states (Wyoming, Idaho, Utah and Arizona come to mind).

    And I believe that candidates with even more progressive credentials will fare well in future campaigns as Republicans continue their war on the poor, women, children, immigrants, labor, environmentalists …

    I’m not happy with Tester’s, Walsh’s or a number of Democrats stand on the Keystone Pipeline but know on most issues, they’ll vote the correct way. I also know that Republicans will vote the wrong way 99% of the time. (I won’t miss Max too much, though.)

    And Rob, I gotta ask, where do you stand on the Keystone Pipeline?

    • ‘Not a fan, Pete. But that hardly matters to those who think in terms of Right (agreement) and Wrong (disagreement). The pipeline is not the problem. The problem is perception.

      Jobs!
      Independence!
      We want clean living!
      Fossil fuel generation!
      Think outside the box!
      Money tells us what to think!
      Your vote doesn’t matter but mine does!

      Every single one of those bombastic claims has been offered in this thread and every single one is a complete and contemptible lie. This is not about a damned pipeline. It is about how people will live their lives moving into the future.

      • Pete Talbot

        In the big picture, I tend to agree that the XL pipeline is symbolic. There are bigger environmental issues.

        Symbols are important, though. If that’s where the environmental community wants to take a stand, more power to it. It’s tangible, while things like global warming are more abstract.

        Nate Schweber’s quote in Liz’s post is a great way to tackle the XL: a traditional Montana rancher’s take on what the pipeline means to him. Bakkens, tar sands and coal, and the associated jobs, will come and go. Are we willing to jeopardize our sustainable assets: ranching and farming, clean air and water, and our wild lands for short term economic gains?

  6. The blue/green myth is as old as the hills. We have devolved from Metcalf to Baucus/Tester. Performance as legislator was replaced with performance as paid actor. We are not done falling.

    Money has corrupted unions, “professional” environmentalists, and tribes more or less equally. Clinton opened the floodgates. NAFTA, deregulation (I’m thinking of Montana Power in particular), subsidies for oil, timber, mining, livestock, ag, etc, became the norm. If you’re not being paid off, you’re obviously an extremist, a hippie, or a terrorist.

    Money buys silence. Money marginalizes grassroots democracy. With Citizen’s United in play, it’s money, money, and more money. Wall Street is firmly in control of both parties. A majority of eligible voters are disgusted to the point of hopelessness. A majority now refuses to participate in the corrupt system party hacks wallow in with glee. Wallow on puppets, wallow on.

    • Well said.

  7. More on neoliberal “environmentalists” selling out native fish for politics. Same bunch support Tester and Baucus legislation turning over millions of acres of Montana’s public roadless areas to special-interests. http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/12/09/the-plight-of-the-grayling/




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