Montana left footing the bill for real environmental stewardship

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Coal is loaded onto hopper cars at the Spring Creek Mine near Decker. (AP Photo/Matthew Brown,File)

Under President Trump we have seen a sudden resurgence of federalism on the left in American politics as liberal states like California seek to go their own way on issues like the Paris Climate Accord and sanctuary cities. But sometimes these states’ attempt to set policy within their own borders has a very real negative impact on neighboring states.

Currently in our home state of Montana we will contribute upwards of $6.5 million per year to protect the rivers and waterways, which flow to the west and east of us, from Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS). AIS are non-native organisms which occupy and cause harm to our native ecosystems. These invasive organisms cost the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service billions every year. Preventing AIS from polluting our ecosystems is an important part of being a good steward of the environment. Much of our efforts and tax dollars spent in preventing the introduction and spread contributes to the wellbeing of our neighboring states’ rivers and waterways. Nevertheless, the states we share those rivers with contribute a fraction of the cost, while at the same time hindering our ability to generate revenue through responsible resource development. Oregon and Washington not only refuse to purchase Montana coal (which is some of the cleanest in the world) but also chose to hinder our ability to ship coal from their ports.

Working together with these states would make preventative measures for AIS much more cohesive and effective. However, Montana is bearing the burden of funding an issue that has been inherited from mid-western states to our east. The issue of AIS that Montana is dealing with did not originate in Montana but we are doing our best to put up a firewall to protect our own waterways as well as those to the west of us. In short, Montana is a good neighbor.

Washington and Oregon are wealthy states with more available resources to utilize preventative measures against these invasive species. However, Montana is bearing the brunt of the cost while Washington and Oregon are purposefully avoiding the industry that keeps many of our cities and towns afloat. Instead, Washington and Oregon are tilting at their own windmills, trying to grab headlines with “go it alone” efforts to reduce carbon emissions. Refusing to buy Montana clean coal is their choice but preventing construction of a port Montana desperately needs in order to ship coal to developing Asian markets is honestly beyond belief. Asian countries could reduce their current coal fired generation facility emissions by 30 percent just by burning Montana coal.

Our neighboring states to the west seem to overlook the fact that Montana plays an important role in the future of energy production for our country and world, both in the short and long term. Demand for energy is high and will continue to grow.

The result is one state footing the bill for real environmental stewardship while bigger more prosperous states attract all the press and kill Montana coal jobs. Federalism is a precious principle of our Constitution which no one loves more than Montana. But when the result is two big states crushing the coal industry in our state, all while expecting Montana to preserve the rivers and waterways they depend on, it’s time to stop going it alone and understand this is an obligation we share.

Rep. Kerry White, R-Bozeman; Sen. Duane Ankney, R-Colstrip; Rep. Daniel Zolnikov, R-Billings; Sen. Jeff Welborn, R-Dillon

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