Montana Politics

Can a Republican Candidate Lead on Resource Development, Not Just Extraction?

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An interesting piece in Orion Magazine discusses the impact of fracking in communities across the world, with particular attention to Montana. Sandra Steingraber describes a scene at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Billings:

What had him choked up was the ongoing ruination of the West caused by fossil fuel extraction. Coal mining. Coal-bed methane. Oil wells. Oil sands pipelines from Canada. And the newest atrocity: high volume, slickwater, horizontal hydrofracturing, which blows up deep layers of shale to get at natural gas bubbles. Science magazine describes fracking this way: under extreme pressure, large volumes of chemical-laced water are used to “create a football-shaped cloud of fractured shale 300 meters long.”

The prospect of turning fresh water into a club to smash bedrock into footballish clouds had—along with coal mining—sunk a whole roomful of men into sorrow. They spoke about artesian springs that had stopped flowing. The difficult business of irrigating alfalfa. And something called subsidence—downward motion of the earth caused by collapsing tunnels or changes in pressure from gas extraction. Subsidence can roll boulders through people’s front doors.

It seems that all any of the Republican candidates for governor can talk about during this incredibly early election season is the need for massive resource extraction. They’re convinced that Montana’s future depends on increasingly exploitative means of pulling out energy resources from Montana’s earth, devastating impact to the air and water notwithstanding.

I’m not suggesting that we close up shop and end resource development. The reality is that Americans specifically and the world generally are still too addicted, too reliant on energy that we perceive to be inexpensive no matter the enormous long-term costs. Imagining, however, that Montana’s future lies in resource extraction from the past is not only foolish, but incredibly short-sighted.

Building a campaign centered on nothing more than the idea that we should become North Wyoming isn’t a vision for Montana’s future; it’s a vision from Montana’s past, a past, that for all the treasure pulled out of our state, was one with a brutal legacy of an unsustainable boom/bust economy, lands and waters egregiously polluted, and corporate control of our institutions.

Wyoming is no model for Montana’s future:

Folks who live near the gas fields in the western part of this outdoorsy state are complaining of watery eyes, shortness of breath and bloody noses because of ozone levels that have exceeded what people in L.A. and other major cities wheeze through on their worst pollution days.

A real vision for Montana’s future must focus less on what we pull out of the state and more on what we put into it. If the GOP candidates are serious about improving this state for the long term, they need to commit to investing in what truly represents the future of a vibrant Montana: our children, our schools, and our communities.

Real vision will require standing up to a conservative wing of their party hostile to education and environmental protection; it will require admitting that “drill, baby, drill” isn’t a panacea for Montana’s economic difficulties.

Do any of the Republican candidates have the courage to stand for Montana’s future?

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is a eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it’s a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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