In the two days of the Gianforte rollout, one in which he scurried away from questions from the press, there was one bit of news that should give Montanans who care about preserving our environment pause. According to Lee reporter Jayme Fraser, Gianforte repeatedly said that he would appoint “someone from industry” to head the Department of Environmental Quality:
It’s a fair question to ask whether Mr. Gianforte knows what the DEQ is, as when asked difficult questions about specific policies and parts of the administration, he’s said he doesn’t have the answers yet. But even someone with a passing familiarity with Montana government should know that the purpose of DEQ is not to rubber stamp projects, but to evaluate their environmental impact. As the agency’s web site notes, its purpose to protect the “clean and healthy environment” that Montana’s constitution promises all of us.
Anyone who has a minimal understanding of Montana’s history knows the importance of aggressive evaluation and permitting for major projects than can damage our environment. The state is littered with the reminders of corporate greed that has scarred the land, damage that may still be in place 6,000 years from now or longer. Rushing permits for companies, some of which don’t see beyond quarterly profits before running themselves into bankruptcy, is a recipe for disaster.
As interesting as breathless coverage of Gianforte’s talking points was, one hopes that the media will ask the candidate to offer examples of DEQ action his “industry” man would reverse or change.
Even Judy Martz, when given the opportunity to select a new chief at DEQ, chose someone who both the environmentalist and industry community agreed could be a good choice. From the Independent Record, way back in 2000:
Environmentalists and industry representatives also praised Martz’s selection.
Anne Hedges, program director for the Montana Environmental Information Center, said she’s elated at the decision, calling it “damn good news.”
Cary Hegreberg, executive vice president of Montana Wood Products Association, also called the appointment a winner. He said it was smart to look to within the department because Sensibaugh already has a rapport with the staff and is very capable.
While there were certainly challenges at DEQ under Governor Martz, she at least understood that the role of its head was to evaluate environmental impact, not be solely a voice for industry. And Martz chose someone who had the experience to lead the industry, someone who rose from within the organization, growing to understand its role and policies. Pandering Gianforte seems like he would be more interested in appointing someone who shares his ideology, not someone who has the experience for the job.
Let’s hope the press asks and Mr. Gianforte deigns to answer about the specifics of this ill-advised talking point.