Energy Environment Montana Politics

Environmental Discord

There’s a guest column in the Missoulian lambasting “pseudo-environmentalists.”

I wrote awhile back about how Montana’s Democratic Party is quite well represented by organized labor, not so much by environmentalists.

Labor is an integral part of the Democratic Party and I welcome it with open arms.  I just wish the environmental movement had more representation.  I’ve been disappointed by leadership in Montana’s Democratic Party endorsing the Keystone XL pipeline or supporting expanded coal mining or rejecting President Obama’s Climate Action Plan.  Maybe if the party had more representation from the environmental movement, Democratic leadership wouldn’t be so strident in its support of these extractive industries.

But just what is the environmental movement?  Apparently, there are real environmentalists and pseudo-environmentalists, although I’m not sure who the arbiter is on this.

The author of the guest column, Bill Baum, identifies as “an independent environmentalist.” That says it all.  Have you ever heard anyone claim to be an independent union man (or woman)?  No?  It’s called unity.

That’s what the environmental movement is lacking.  It’s interesting that organized labor has more representation from nurses, teachers, and other other state and federal employees, than it does from, say, pipe fitters or workers in the mines or mills.  The former doesn’t have that much economic stake in coal or oil exploitation, except for some tax revenue from those industries (which could be generated elsewhere).  But the former accepts the call for solidarity on these issues from union leadership and from the elected officials who rely on union support.

Can the environmental community get on the same page on at least a few issues?  It won’t be an easy task coordinating campaigns.  I count 34 listings for environmental groups in the Missoula area Yellow Pages alone.  And with labels like “real environmentalist” and “pseudo-environmentalist” being bandied about, the job’s even tougher.

But until environmentalists can speak with a unified voice, they’ll have a hard time being heard.


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  • Pete,

    If you accept that people who take money to facilitate building new logging roads into public forests to cut them down for profit — these would be the paid “collaborators” — are “environmentalists,” well, isn’t it silly to expect envinronmentalists to “speak with a unified voice.”

    Even sillier in my opinion is the notion that politicians (both parties) who accept Wall Street campaign funding do not generally ignore labor, environmentalists, and most minorities, including blacks and women (actually a gender majority) except atelection time. Environmental grant money is doled out to buy loyalty, no matter how badly the candidate performed while in office.

    Politicians hear just fine, they just don’t listen except when wealthy doners call to complain about some grassroots movement or other eating into their profits.

    • The point I was trying to make, Steve, is that you don’t see teachers calling pipe fitters, or mine workers calling nurses “pseudo-unionists.” If the environmental movement can’t build some sort of coalition, it won’t get the clout it needs to advance an agenda. I know big money talks but there’s also power in numbers (as in voters).

  • Unionists have common goals and objectives, I agree. Are “right-to-work” activists accepted as “unionists?” Hell no!

    As long anti-environmental organizations and paid agent provocateurs are commonly and conveniently accepted at face value by politicians, media, and some “intellectuals” as “environmentalists” with no regard for intent, performance, mission, or trustworthiness, well then there is no standard by which to define the category. How do you make a coalition out of that? Again, the money drowns out any and all attempts to organize, around common principles, or mission. That is the point of money and influence, right? And that is precisely how and why “independent” environmentalists exist out of necessity.

  • It’s really hard when you have groups like the Sierra Club (who have arguably sold out the environmental agenda) hobnobbing on Wall Street vs groups like Earth First! that have been listed as a terrorist group by the FBI. These two cannot be seen as parts of the same paradigm as pipe fitters vs nurses & teachers. Not the same thing at all.

    I cannot wrap my head around a bunch of Earth Firsters collaborating with anyone let alone some suits from the Sierra Club. Hahahahaha!!!

    That is why there are “independent” environmentalists. And anyone who supports the Keystone XL pipeline is NOT an environmentalist! Of any stripe.

  • Funny that. It strikes me that most environmentalists are at best reticent to define what the “paradigm” is. Though, much like porn, they are cock sure about and more than happy to point out the “pseudo” as they see it.

  • Hi Pete, Thanks for the post.

    I personally don’t ever recall using the terms ‘pseudo-environmentalists’ or ‘real environmentalists,’ and I honestly haven’t heard many people at all in the ‘environmental movement’ use those terms either. So I’d caution against using Bill Baum’s labels in his opinion piece as representing the entire ‘environmental movement.’

    However, a ‘divide’ clearly does exist, and it exists mainly, in my opinion, because of a huge divide over policy and politics.

    Steve is correct when he points out that it’s silly to expect environmentalists to “speak with a unified voice” when, for example, groups like the Montana Wilderness Association made an economic decision (thanks to millions from the Pew Foundation, MWA now has a staff of 26 people!) and struck out on their own in private meetings with the timber industry to try and get politicians (first Conrad Burns, then Senator Tester) to mandate huge increases in National Forest logging (including in roadless wildlands), in exchange for some Wilderness protection.

    If anything, the “unified voice” on that issue (with the exception of MWA, Bruce Farling with MT Trout Unlimited and Tom France with National Wildlife Federation) from the public lands and wilderness ‘environmental movement’ throughout Montana and the U.S. has been in opposition, due to the fact that such political logging mandates would further weaken public input, environmental analysis and science-based public lands management.

    It should also be pointed out that the Montana Wilderness Association has become very political over the past 10 years and their staffers, board members and some of their well-known members have become very active in the Montana Democratic Party. Heck, the wife of MWA’s state program director is the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee Director and recently even served as the interim director of the Montana Democratic Party. And don’t forget that former MWA executive director, Tim Baker, was tapped by Governor Bullock to be Policy Advisor for Natural Resources.

    Speaking of Bullock, he also tapped Tracy Stone Manning, formerly with the Clark Fork Coaltion and Senator Tester’s office, to first be the head of MT DEQ, which really didn’t seem to work out that well as far as the MT DEQ leading the charge on environmental issues. Just look at the fact that the Clark Fork Coalition, Missoula City-County Health Board and Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes had to sue MT DEQ for Stone Manning’s ‘absurd’ Clark Fork River pollution permit given to the new (and very, very questionable) owners of the toxic former Smurfit-Stone Container pulp mill in Missoula.

    So, I would argue that, in fact, a certain segment of the Montana ‘environmental movement’ is very active in the Montana Democratic Party and Bullock Administration, and Senator Tester’s office.

    But none of those folks want to risk their seat at the table, or their paychecks, to speak out against the Montana Democratic Party’s (and all statewide Dem politicians) support of Keystone XL, expanded coal mining, rejecting a modest (and perhaps even just milk-toast) Climate Action Plan. Where would the ‘environmental movement’ be in the United States if John Muir, Rachel Carson, David Brower or Montanan and Wilderness hero Stewart Brandborg would’ve taken the same approach?

    If the ‘environmental movement’ wants to speak with a unified voice on these issues – or the issue of protecting all the remaining roadless wildlands on public lands in Montana, or making sure that we don’t let politicians start mandating logging (and next, grazing, oil/gas, mining, etc) levels on our federal public lands – I’m all for it, as I’m sure most of the ‘environmental movement’ is too.

    But the ball really isn’t in our court when you have groups like the Montana Wilderness Association (with a staff of 26 people and a huge budget and political connections) that either advocate for policy positions that are clearly far, far outside the realm of what the public lands and wilderness movement has advocated and worked for for decades now…or they remain silent over issues like Keystone XL, coal mining, or the Defense Bill rider giveaways of Wilderness Study Areas, sacred tribal land in Arizona to a foreign mining giant, or tens of thousands of acres of old-growth forests on the Tongass National Forest or the complete rollback of environmental law and public input into public lands grazing permit renewals across hundreds of millions acres of federal public lands.

    Unfortunately for the ‘environmental movement’ and America’s public lands and wildlife legacy, some groups don’t have a hard time being heard by the Montana Democratic Party or Montana Dem Party politicians. It’s just the policy positions that they are advocating for (or remaining entirely silent on) that are causing so many problems. Thanks.

    • I appreciate the comment, Matthew, and I hope folks realize that my post was not a critique as much as a plea.

      We all know that the labor movement was riddled with dissension and violence, within its ranks, in the not too distant past.

      It seems to have gotten its act together, though, and speaks with a unified voice for workers. The $15 minimum wage campaign comes to mind.

      I’d like to think that environmentalists have a goal, too. Save the Earth. I’m sure there’ll always be outliers in how this is accomplished but can’t the majority of environmental groups coalesce around a few issues they can agree on? Work together on some key policy points? Build a movement? Pressure the politicians?

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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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