Whiskey’s for Drinkin’, Water’s for Fightin’


One doesn’t go to a newspaper’s Opinion Page for facts.  That’s why it’s called the Opinion Page.  Still, from deep in outer space comes this, from Ken Miller:

CSKT water compact similar to electrical deregulation

Miller is a former Republican State Senator, Montana Republican Party Chairman and candidate for governor in 2004.  Moderate Republican Bob Brown won that primary (Brian Schweitzer took the general).  Miller was edged out by BiIlings embezzler Pat Davison for a third-place finish but beat Tom Keating (Rob Natelson’s running mate for governor in 2000).

But enough of the history lesson, for now: back to the guest column.  Miller writes that the parallels of energy deregulation and the CSKT water compact are “astonishing:”

Both were pushed by the federal government, with millions of outside dollars spent on high-priced lobbyist(s) to convince policy-makers that these are good ideas and that doing nothing will be very painful to Montanans.

Wrong.  Some more history: Montana’s energy deregulation was pushed by Montana Power Company CEO Bob Gannon and Goldman Sachs.  They wanted to get into the lucrative, they thought, telecommunications business.  We all know how that ended, although Goldman Sachs made out OK, collecting millions of dollars in consulting and transaction fees.

The parallels with the CSKT water compact escape me.  Where are the high-priced CSKT lobbyists?  The millions of outside dollars?  Goldman Sachs?

I’m also missing the the parallels between those who supported deregulation and those who are supporting the water compact.  It was Republican Governor Marc Racicot who pushed energy deregulation.  Approximately 95 percent of the Republicans in the legislature supported the measure and about 63 percent of the Democrats rejected it. The numbers are almost reversed in the CSKT compact.  About 95 percent of the Democrats voted for it and 56 percent of Republicans voted against it.  (This was a senate vote, the bill is now in the house judiciary, where it could go down.)  Also, Democrtic Governor Steve Bullock supports the compact.

This is a federal government grab, according to Miller.  Montana’s DNRC has a different take:

On December 10, 2014, the negotiating parties reached an agreement that fulfills the State’s legal obligation to recognize the CSKT’s reserved rights and simultaneously provides protection for existing uses on and off the Reservation. The Compact will make new water available for commercial and irrigation use, end the water administration void on the Flathead Reservation, allow for economic development under conditions of legal certainty on and off the Reservation, and facilitate the completion of the statewide general stream adjudication. In addition, the Compact would establish a technical team with irrigator representation to implement irrigation project upgrades to protect historic irrigation use and meet Tribal in-stream flow targets.

Heaven forbid we fulfill our obligations to the tribes.  I mean, why start now?

For a bit of irony, below Miller’s guest column in the dead tree edition of the Missoulian is a letter penned by a number of Bitterroot Valley irrigators strongly advocating for passage of the CSKT water compact.

And some sources would be nice on the following Miller statements of “fact:”

Those major players involved in deregulation are now right back in the center of this compact. Many are making big money to ensure its passage regardless of the impact.

Name one, Ken.  Also:

(The) compact is unconstitutional, costly and sets in motion risky laws based on unprecedented new policies.

Miller’s assertions could use some corroboration.  Nice try, though.  The truth is that similarities between the water compact and energy deregulation are nonexistent.

ADDENDUM: Cowgirl has a post up on Sen. Fred Thomas (R-Hamilton), who was one of the architects of Montana’s energy deregulation.  It should be noted that Thomas voted for the compact – maybe he learned something.





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About the author

Pete Talbot

'Papa’ Pete Talbot is first and foremost a grandfather to five wonderful grandchildren. Like many Montanans, he has held numerous jobs over the years: film and video producer, a partner in a marketing and advertising firm, a builder and a property manager. He’s served on local and statewide Democratic Party boards. Pete has also been blogging at various sites for over a decade. Ping-pong and skiing are his favorite diversions. He enjoys bourbon.


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  • Thanks for the update, James. I don’t usually read the Interlake and missed that guest column. I’m surprised it didn’t show up in the papers I usually look at (most of the other dailies). It appears a lot of Republicans missed it, too, or don’t care.

  • I didn’t realize the Beacon had published the letter, too. Liked your comments there, Carla. Feel free to challenge Miller’s assertions here, anytime.

  • Miller’s letter is also amusing because he was not only defending deregulation back in 2001, but saying it didn’t go far enough:

    But Miller said Montana has not deregulated but restructured and would have seen many of the same job losses without passage of SB390. These industries, he said, made business decisions to leave the Montana Power system in 1998 and many of them found much cheaper power for a period and were able to create jobs until prices escalated last year.

    Miller said Montana has a shortage of electricity and must generate more power from coal, natural gas, wind and other fuels. Montana’s development of its energy potential also can help serve other states and create jobs here, he said.

    “Many of the problems we’re seeing is because of regulation, not deregulation,” Miller said,

    He blamed the power shortage in Montana on regulation, citing the state Public Service Commission’s decision in the late 1980s to refuse to put MPC’s share of Colstrip power plant 4 into its rate base. As a result, Montana Power sold the power out of state.

    • Good additional info, Don. Facts have never been Miller’s strong suit. Have a nice Easter and enjoy what’s left of Spring Break.

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