Guest opinion: Don't sell off Montana's future to China

2014-06-11T00:00:00Z Guest opinion: Don't sell off Montana's future to ChinaBy TODD TANNER The Billings Gazette
June 11, 2014 12:00 am  • 

There’s trouble brewing in Montana. People who don’t live here, and who don’t really care what happens to our state, are trying to take advantage of us. If we don’t speak up now, we’ll be paying the price for decades to come.

Our coal reserves are a resource, just like our oil, natural gas, timber, soil and water. When we use our resources wisely, they almost always pay dividends. When we don’t, their value diminishes and eventually disappears.

Unfortunately, there are an awful lot of people who want to liquidate our public coal reserves, pocket whatever profits they can grab, and then move on to the next big score. They’re not concerned with maximizing our financial returns, or creating a sustainable economy, or leaving Montana in decent shape for future generations. They simply want to extract our coal as quickly as possible and ship it overseas. If that turns Montana into a Third World state forced to rely on an antiquated resource exploitation business model, that’s not their problem, is it?

We’re Montanans. We live here, we work here, and we hunt and fish here. We raise our families here. We have a real stake in using our resources wisely, and in passing along healthy landscapes and a strong economy to our kids and our grandkids.

Let’s be clear. Nobody is holding a gun to our head and forcing us to ship America’s energy reserves to China. We don’t have to sell off our public coal reserves for pennies on the dollar, or trash the federal and state lands where we hunt and fish. We don’t have to pollute Montana’s rivers and aquifers, or use eminent domain to take private ranch lands away from their rightful owners. We don’t have to contaminate our communities with coal dust, or lock in industrial grade air pollution and climate-change-induced droughts, storms and wildfires. We can make better choices for ourselves, and for future generations.

We don’t work on Wall Street, or live in mansions, or drive Ferraris, or wear Armani suits. But in our minds, that’s not such a bad thing. As hunters and anglers, we’re focused on preserving our outdoor heritage and treating our landscapes with respect. And we know that a sustainable economy based on hard work and traditional Montana values will outperform a Third World resource exploitation strategy every single time.

Those of us who love Montana have a moral obligation to do the right thing. We don’t have to bow down to Beijing, or sign on to a failed economic model. We can keep America’s energy reserves at home and give our kids and grandkids a shot at a decent future.

Please call Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell (202-208-3100) and tell her to manage our energy resources responsibly. Call Sen. Jon Tester (202-224-2644) and tell him not to sell our coal for pennies on the dollar. Call Sen. John Walsh (202-224-2651) and tell him that Montana isn’t a Third World country, and that we shouldn’t treat it like one. Call Rep. Steve Daines (202-225-3211) and tell him that American coal needs to stay in America, where it belongs.

We’re not in the business of helping our foreign competitors, or kicking America to the curb. It’s time to put the breaks on the coal train.

Todd Tanner of Bigfork is president of Conservation Hawks, a nationwide organization headquartered in Montana ( He collaborated on this column with several other Montana sportsmen, including John Gibson of Billings and Brad Sauer of Big Timber.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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